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Beryl sat in her sty. It was the only place she had ever known; she had lived in it all her life. It was the sty where her mother had lost her life when Beryl was born. It was the sty where she’d seen them take her father away. It was small and made of concrete and it sat in the corner of a huge, hangar-size barn. She could only just see over its thick walls to hundreds of other concrete sties. Beryl now shared it with her aunt Misery and her cousins.
The cousins didn’t like Beryl and Beryl had given up trying to like them. It was something she had gotten used to. They sat in the opposite corner of the sty and stared at her, and she avoided their eyes and kept as quiet as a mouse, trying to appear as small as possible and hoping not to attract their attention. She spent most of her time daydreaming.
“The farmer’s marking the largest young’uns!” hissed a neighbor over the sty wall.
“I wish they’d take you this time!” Aunt Misery grunted at Beryl. Her cousins sniggered, but Beryl was the smallest of them all because she was only allowed at the food trough after everyone else had finished. Aunt Misery glared angrily at Beryl. The largest of her cousins fell silent as he realized it must be his turn to be taken.
Beryl shifted uncomfortably and gazed at the familiar cracks and marks on the floor and the walls, hoping she would be overlooked. She peered out of her favorite crack, where she could see things in the outside world, which always seemed so bright. She sat and watched the colors and shapes and wondered what they could be. She had often thought about the outside and how magical and mysterious it seemed. She wondered what it would feel like to walk around out there.
The farmer strode down the alley toward her sty. As he came he slapped stickers onto the largest of the young pigs, and when their mothers wailed out in grief, he didn’t seem to notice. He didn’t stop or hesitate, he just kept striding and slapping on the stickers, slap, slap, slap!
“Hide behind me!” Aunt Misery whispered urgently to her brood and, at the same time, she thrust Beryl aggressively toward the alley gate with her snout.
Beryl swallowed nervously as the farmer steadily approached. However unpleasant her life with her aunt and cousins was, Beryl didn’t want to be pushed into the limelight. With every stride the farmer took toward her, she had a growing feeling of dread. Whatever was happening, wherever the chosen pigs were being taken, Beryl sensed it could only be worse than where she was now. She had seen a lot of pigs taken, and they were never seen again.
Suddenly the farmer was above her, panting and swooping his arm over the sty wall, the sticker in his hand. Beryl gulped hard and squeezed her eyes tight shut.
She felt nothing! The farmer had stretched right over her and slapped the sticker onto the largest cousin’s back.
Beryl couldn’t help but feel a wave of relief.
“NO! Not my baby!” cried Aunt Misery, and for the first time that Beryl could remember, the cousins didn’t say anything at all. They just went very, very pale.
Suddenly the barn doors creaked and groaned open, pouring light over the sties. Beryl blinked and squinted into the bleaching sunlight.
Two men with poles were shunting the chosen pigs out of their sties and into the alley. With all the pigs panicking and darting about, banging and crashing, squealing and wailing, the noise was deafening.
“I won’t let them take you!” cried Aunt Misery. She pried the sticker off her son with her teeth, then leveled her cold stare at Beryl. Before Beryl could move, Aunt Misery lurched forward and pinned her to the wall. Slap! She stuck the sticker onto Beryl’s back.
The men were bearing down on Beryl’s sty, zapping pigs as they came closer. Beryl tried desperately to pull the sticker off. She twisted and turned, but as hard as she tried, she couldn’t reach it. It wasn’t her turn, she wasn’t big enough yet! Aunt Misery and her cousins were laughing now, as Beryl frantically tried to rub the sticker off her back and onto the wall.
“Here they come!” goaded Aunt Misery.
The men reached Beryl’s sty and swung the door open. Beryl froze.
“That one,” said the hairy man, and poked Beryl with his pole. Zeeezt! An electric jolt ran down her back and legs. Suddenly there was nothing but pain and then, just as suddenly, it was gone.
“Come on!” shouted Harry. Beryl’s head spun and she staggered, trying to find her feet. He stretched out with the pole to prod her again, but before it touched her, her mind cleared and she found her footing and sprang with all the energy she could muster into the alley and ran as fast as possible toward the light.
She was jostled up a ramp with the other stickered pigs. All around her they were squealing and panicking. Harry kept prodding with the pole and as he did so pigs screamed out. Beryl was swept along as she became part of a body of pigs.
Everyone was pushing and shoving, and when Beryl reached the top of the ramp Harry swung open some doors, pushing Beryl and the other pigs into the gloom of a truck. Beryl was squeezed in so tightly she could hardly breathe. The doors came together with a thunderous crash, and the last of the light was gone.
Beryl panted in the hot, stuffy darkness. All she could hear was the loud breathing of the other pigs. She thought of her father and how brave he had been when this had happened to him. As Beryl’s eyes grew accustomed to the dark, she was overwhelmed by a sense of doom. She had no idea where they might be taking her—she had no experience of anywhere but her sty, so she couldn’t imagine anywhere else. But she knew in her heart that wherever it was, it wasn’t going to be good.
Excerpted from Beryl: A Pig's Tale by Simmons, Jane Copyright © 2010 by Simmons, Jane. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted October 5, 2011
My second grader read for 40 minutes at a time because she didn't want to put this book down. Great story peppered with absolutely adorable drawings. We can't wait for Jane Simmons to write another !Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.