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The Beef Princess of Practical County

The Beef Princess of Practical County

4.3 13
by Michelle Houts

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After years of waiting, it is finally Libby Ryan’s turn to shine at the Practical County Fair. Libby is filled with excitement as she and her granddad pick out two calves for her to raise on her family’s cattle farm, in hopes of winning the annual steer competition. Against her father’s advice, Libby gives the calves names, even though both steers


After years of waiting, it is finally Libby Ryan’s turn to shine at the Practical County Fair. Libby is filled with excitement as she and her granddad pick out two calves for her to raise on her family’s cattle farm, in hopes of winning the annual steer competition. Against her father’s advice, Libby gives the calves names, even though both steers will eventually be auctioned off. After a few months of preparing for the Practical County Fair, Libby finds that she is growing closer to her steers with each passing day, and the pressure to win Grand Champion is mounting.

Luckily, Libby can count on her best friend to get her through most of the county fair chaos. Yet once reality sets in and she realizes that her steers will soon be sold to the highest bidder, the chaos in Libby’s heart becomes too much to bear.

Michelle Houts lives on a grain and livestock farm in West Central Ohio with her husband and three children. This is her first novel.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
In this debut novel, twelve-year-old Libby Ryan is in pursuit of stardom at the Practical County Fair: steer stardom. Now that her brother Ronnie has gone away to college, Libby, who comes from a family of cattlemen, is determined to make her own mark at the annual fair in Nowhere, Indiana. She picks two calves to show and promptly names them Piggy and Mule despite her father's warning that fair calves do not need names. Houts delivers an often deadpan first-person narrative that conveys Libby's heartfelt desires, while turning her astute eye on others in this endearing oddball community of people. The Darlings stand out, with their daughters named Precious, Lil, and Ohma, but there are plenty of quirky others, including Libby's loyal friend Carol Ann, four-year-old Frannie, with her imaginary "grandchildren," and Granddad, with his home-grown wisdom. Houts does not spare her young protagonist, and plenty of obstacles arise in Libby's path to keep the pages turning. The setting features authentic locales like the fair itself, the Feed and Seed, and the eccentrically hybrid Jung Chow's Pizza. A charming story about growing up, letting go, and, in the process, finding the core of what matters in self, family, and community. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal

Gr 4-7

Libby, 12, hails from a farm family that raises beef cattle in rural Indiana. Continuing in the Ryan tradition, she plans to compete in the steer competition at the annual Practical County Fair. The novel opens in September, when she picks two newborn calves. When Piggy, the favored one, injures his leg and must be slaughtered for beef, she is crushed. She had raised Piggy and Mule as pets, against her elders' advice, and now turns to vegetarianism. Libby's mother, meanwhile, has been urging her to enter the Beef Princess pageant at the fair, arguing that she would be a far better representative of the county than the rude, self-centered Darling sisters, cloyingly named Precious, Lil, and Ohma. Libby does enter the pageant, trading her holey jeans for a thrift-store dress, but another contestant wins. True satisfaction comes when Libby and Mule earn the Reserve Grand Champion in the steer competition, bringing pride to the Ryans and their farm. In victory Libby savors a delicious cheeseburger with her family and realizes that she has learned something about saying goodbye to animals she loves. Her narration inclines toward telling rather than showing the action, and several characters are not fleshed out, yet this first novel provides a robust glimpse of Midwestern farm culture while unabashedly championing the taste of quality beef.-Susan W. Hunter, Riverside Middle School, Springfield, VT

Kirkus Reviews
Set in rural Indiana, this refreshing tale chronicles the experience of Libby, a well-grounded 12-year-old who raises and then shows a steer at the annual county fair. That's the fun part of the fair for Libby, the middle child in a cattle-ranching family. The less fun part is the Beef Princess pageant she ambivalently enters, a contest that pits her against a beautiful but obnoxious girl, one of the Darling sisters. And the terrible part is the knowledge that the steer she's carefully tended will be auctioned off, sold to the highest bidder for meat. That's the practical reality Libby has to come to terms with at the Practical County Fair, and Houts does a creditable job of making her journey believable. This coming-of-age story is fueled by the passionate soul-searching of its authentically drawn protagonist. It's a minor misfortune that the subplots concerning Libby's competition with the Darling sisters have holes the size of longhorns. Still, readers will be rooting for Libby as she makes difficult choices about both her steer and her life. (Fiction. 10 & up)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Granddad's Pasture

They were total opposites from the very beginning. It was almost a year ago that I first saw them. It was a sunny Saturday morning in early September, and if I hadn't seen a calendar, I would have thought it was still midsummer. The air was heavy and sticky already at nine-thirty in the morning, when Dad, Frannie, and I piled out of the rusty old pickup at the gate to Granddad's pasture.

I loved the pasture. It always gave me a comfortable, kind of homey feeling. There was just something about acres and acres of green with big brown and black dots scattered all over, slowly moving and munching, like furry lawn mowers, keeping the grass all even and neatly trimmed. But pasture ground was a rare sight in Practical County.

"Northern Indiana farm ground's just too good for pasturing," I'd heard Dad say many times. What he meant was a man could earn a better profit raising a crop of corn or soybeans than he could growing grass for cattle to eat.

That was why Granddad's pasture was so perfect. With little rolling hills, a winding creek that cut a jagged path diagonally through it, and a couple of acres of woods, it would have been a nightmare to till, plant, and harvest.

As we stood at the gate, all of Granddad's calves loped eagerly over to greet us. All but one. In fact, that one acted downright uninterested in any of us while his herdmates licked our hands with their long, rough tongues.

The week-old calves wrapped their tongues around my fingers and tugged. That's a calf's way of saying, "Pleased to make your acquaintance," Dad had explained when I was no bigger than Frannie, my four-year-old sister, who at that moment was walking the fence. I watched her teetering, arms out straight, her mess of blond curls flapping behind as she placed one tennis-shoed foot after the other on the top rail. Where she had gotten those blond curls was a mystery. My own stick-straight, mousy brown hair came from the Ryan side. I ponytailed it daily, because there wasn't much else I could do with it.

While Frannie planted herself firmly on a fence post, I stared out across acres and acres of grass still green from summer but chewed to the very roots by the hungry herd inside the fence. The new calves at the gate were checking us out with the same curiosity we were showing to them. I set my mind on finding the calves with the most potential for steer stardom. I was looking for a steer calf that would take the Practical County Fair by storm.

The Practical County Fair. It was nothing short of the best week of the year in Practical County. Everyone in the community pretty much stopped whatever they were doing to come to the fair. It was where for one week you could do what you couldn't the whole rest of the year. Like eat elephant ears. Or sit inside the Grange tent sipping milk shakes and catching up with the neighbors. For some folks, the fair was a chance to show off their finest whatever. To pick that perfect rose and display it in a vase to see if it could earn the blue ribbon. Or wow the judges with a deep-dish apple crumb pie from Great-grandma's secret recipe. For a handful of others, it wasn't about competing but about coming to see it all. The exhibits, the animal shows, the annual Beef Princess pageant, and the neighbor folks who were usually too busy working to visit.

For my family, the Practical County Fair was all about beef.

Dad's family had raised some of the best beef in Indiana for generations. The Ryan family farm, dubbed Ryansmeade by Granddad's Irish parents, sat on four hundred acres located exactly fourteen and a half miles from Nowhere. Nowhere, Indiana. Population four thousand and not really growing much. Now, I've often wondered, Who on God's green earth names a town Nowhere? Because Nowhere is actually somewhere. It's the county seat of Practical County, and it's right smack-dab in the middle of the flattest fields of northern Indiana.

Dad was raised here, and so was Mom. And generations of their families before them. Granddad, Dad's dad, was my only living grandparent, and he lived in the old home place right beside the pasture and about a half mile from my house. The old home place looked like something from a folk-art painting. A square, white, plain-fronted, wooden-sided farmhouse with twin chimneys on each end. Except for new paint every four years and the electric lines that linked it to the poles along the road, that house probably looked just like it did when it was built a hundred years ago. It was old. And it was big for just Granddad, but he had been born there and he'd sworn time and time again that he would die there when the good Lord had a notion to take him.

Just then Granddad stepped out onto the small back porch, slipped his stocking feet into his black rubber boots, and joined us at the pasture gate.

"Good morning," he said to all of us, calves included. "You here to pick 'em out, Libby?"

"You bet I am."

"Are you sure about this, Lib?" Dad asked. He still had that hint of doubt in his voice. As if a girl couldn't possibly fill my older brother Ronnie's shoes. Well, maybe I couldn't yet handle those big, square hay bales like Ronnie could, but I was sure I could show a steer just as good, and, I hoped, better.

"I'm sure, Dad," I told him with no hint of doubt in my voice.

Looking out over the pasture as the September morning grew into a sweltering day, I knew I had an important task ahead of me. Two of these calves would be mine; I had to be sure we had at least one winner.

I had been to the Practical County Beef Show every year for as long as I could recall, watching and cheering for Ronnie in the show ring. There was so much to take in. The exhibitors as they maneuvered their enormous animals around the ring. The judges, deep in thought as they ranked each steer in their minds. The hush that fell over the crowd just before the champion was selected. I'd seen it all from the stands, and watching my big brother show steers was thrilling. But now that I was twelve, it was my turn. At next summer's fair, it would be me in the show ring. And I had big plans. Not only would I prove to Dad that I could show steers, but I would show the Grand Champion steer as well.

Meet the Author

Michelle Houts lives and writes on a farm in western Ohio where she and the farmer of her dreams are raising three children, some cattle, goats, a whole passel of barn cats, and a Great Pyrenees named Hercules.

Michelle writes for children of all ages, but most of her books are for middle grade readers. THE BEEF PRINCESS OF PRACTICAL COUNTY was Michelle’s debut novel, winning the International Reading Association Award for Intermediate Fiction and the Nebraska Farm Bureau Children’s Agricultural Book of the Year.  The Practical County adventures continued in THE PRACTICAL COUNTY DRAMA QUEEN. Michelle is also the author of the magical tale WINTERFROST and the nonfiction book KAMMIE ON FIRST: BASEBALL’S DOTTIE KAMENSHEK, the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League team the Rockford Peaches’ first baseman, Dottie Kamenshek.

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Beef Princess of Practical County 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
TyTyWallsie More than 1 year ago
I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!! This book was so good ive read it three times and love it every time!!!!! A great book to read!!!!!! Great for any age! WORTH YOUR MONEY!! I <3 THIS BOOK!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She needs to write another book, perhaps a sequel to this? If you want another book please find this helpful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing Author! Fantastic story!
A_Way_With_Words_1 More than 1 year ago
The Beef Princess of Practical County is a touching and delightful book. Children’s literature at its finest, this little novel will appeal to both young and old—anyone who enjoys an artfully crafted story. Anyone who grew up in the country will especially appreciate this sweet and loving portrayal of a wonderful farm family. And young people growing up in the cities and suburbs today will enjoy learning about real life in rural and small town America.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is really heartwarming and cute
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
THE BEEF PRINCESS OF PRACTICAL COUNTY is a sweet coming-of-age novel. Libby loves the cow farm she's grown up on. But she's lived in her brother's shadow and her father has never noticed her when it comes to the farm. When her brother heads off to college, Libby is granted the chance to raise two calves for the next county fair. She will only be able to show one of the calves, but she has the opportunity to show her father what she can do. When her dear Piggy becomes too injured to enter, Libby has to work with the more obstinate of the two calves. She can't imagine that he can possibly be a winner, but Libby is determined to win the Grand Champion designation, something even her brother has never accomplished. Libby's competing against the Darling girls. The two eldest have been the fair princesses for the past few years and are entering their own cattle. The youngest one, Ohma, is the same age as Libby. And although Ohma isn't in the same princess league as her sisters, she's still a Darling. Libby finds herself learning to love the calf that wanted to be left alone. And more surprisingly, she finds her mom has talked her into running for the princess title against the Darling sisters. As the summer winds down and the fair looms closer, Libby grows more confident in herself and her abilities. For a first-time novelist, Ms. Houts has written a tender story of growing up and becoming who you are meant to be. Growing up in a small town that holds annual fairs similar to that depicted in THE BEEF PRINCESS OF PRACTICAL COUNTY, I felt a special connection to the story. Ms. Houts captures the spirit and the competition of a county fair to a T.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is a very interesting book. I love how at the fair she compares one of the charecters fair calf to the state ohio cuz its forhead has a little white spot with the shape of ohio. Then the relizes that the one that the other girl is showing eight at the time looks diffrtent. Here she was walking around the barns annd she finds a trailer that has the calf that she is soppose to be showing. I love how michelle was so realistic with it. I felt like it was happening right at the time i was reading. GO MICHELLE!!! U ROCK! I HOPE UR KIDS WILL BE HAS GREAT AS U R SOME DAY!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was alright I suppose,but no need to be crying over dead or animals you gotta sell or slaughter. If you hunt (Like Me) or are a rancher, I'd expect you'd understand.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you have every showed an animal this is a story for you!! Really hope there is more from this author
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Carrie Meeks More than 1 year ago