A New Series: One Minute Reviews of
Books by Vermont Authors
Laura's column "One Minute Reviews" has appeared bi-weekly in Wilmington, Vermont's Deerfield Valley News since 2015. In April 2018, she found that no Vermont periodical consistently reviews all commercially published fiction and non-fiction by Vermont authors, so she started a series to fill that void. Published reviews from that series and some earlier reviews of local authors are listed with links to a scan of the printed copy. Reviews still in queue are listed without links until they appear in print.
Deerfield Valley News, 10/31/2019
Beautifully Illustrated Children's Book
Kristina Rodanas, Huck's Way Home. Woodstock Foundation, 2018.
Huck and Finn are American Milking Devon twin calves, and they are about to be sent to the Billings Farm in Woodstock, Vermont. Before they leave, the beautiful long-horned cows among whom they've lived gather to give them advice: "stay together so you can protect each other"; "if you're afraid of the dark, look at the stars." But most important, "Should you ever get lost, perk up your ears and listen. Then follow your feet home." The last piece of advice becomes very important when the calves arrive at Billings Farm. Finn is unloaded first and led to the barn, but Huck sees a butterfly and chases it across a field. Soon he sees people chasing him, and terrified, he runs off, through the orchard, along a busy road and into a cemetery, where he hides behind the stones. When things quiet down, he trots into the woods and up a mountain, where he sleeps for the night, exhausted and lonely, but comforted by the stars. In the morning, he remembers the good advice he has received, listens carefully, and follows his tracks back to Billings Farm, where he is joyfully welcomed by the cows he has heard mooing, the farm help, and his twin.
This is a charming story, straightforward and based on the accidental adventures of a real calf that came to Billings Farm. The splendid illustrations, sketched on location, capture the mixture of pastoral and twenty-first century Vermont: Huck hides behind the Billings family tombstone, runs by an ornate bridge, and sleeps beneath the electric star on Mount Tom. As he awakens the next morning, a double-page illustration portrays his listening ears as foreground in a vista of the fields and trees of the country before him, a truly memorable picture.
For children, Huck's story is one about the scariness of freedom, the value of determination, and the way to find your way back home when lost. For adults, it also provides a bit of Vermont history. American Milking Devons date back to the seventeenth century, where they were first imported to Plymouth Colony. They were a "triple purpose" cattle breed, valued for their strength as oxen, but also for the cows' ability to produce milk with high butter fat, and for their reputation as "easy-keeping" beef cattle. In a world that no longer needed triple purpose cattle, they almost went extinct, with only 100 left in the 1970s. Now, however, there are some 600, cherished by people who value their history. It is said that theirs is the breed that appears on Vermont's flag and on its seal. Rodanas's beautiful book will introduce children to this hardy, intelligent breed, while reminding them the importance of following their tracks back home if they are lost.