Heart of a Shepherd

Heart of a Shepherd

4.1 18
by Rosanne Parry

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When Brother's dad is shipped off to Iraq, along with the rest of his reserve unit, Brother must help his grandparents keep the ranch going. He’s determined to maintain it just as his father left it, in the hope that doing so will ensure his father’s safe return. The hardships Brother faces will not only change the ranch, but also reveal his true

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When Brother's dad is shipped off to Iraq, along with the rest of his reserve unit, Brother must help his grandparents keep the ranch going. He’s determined to maintain it just as his father left it, in the hope that doing so will ensure his father’s safe return. The hardships Brother faces will not only change the ranch, but also reveal his true calling.

Editorial Reviews

Mary Quattlebaum
Brother…explores spiritual issues with a depth and honesty seldom seen in contemporary children's literature. Rosanne Parry's first novel is something to celebrate: a big-themed book with a big-hearted boy at the center.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In Parry's debut novel, 11-year-old Brother (his given name is Ignatius: "Guess they ran out of all the good saints by the time they got to me") helps manage his family's Oregon ranch. With his father in Iraq, his four older brothers at school or in the military, and his mother painting abroad, caring for family's livestock falls to Brother, his grandparents and some hired help. Though he is eager to prove to his siblings, grandparents and most importantly, his father, that he can handle it, Brother nonetheless struggles with the rigors of the job, his father's and brothers' absence and the stress of war ("I could never do it.... I could never take those salutes and the 'yes, sirs' and then take moms and dads into danger"). Slowly, Brother fills the shoes of his elders and realizes his own calling when he is literally tested by fire. Brother's spiritual growth and gentle but strong nature, in tandem with details of ranch life and the backdrop of war, add up to a powerful, unique coming-of-age story. Ages 8-12.
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Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
In a beautiful celebration of rural community on the eastern Oregon plains, Parry's debut novel takes the reader through a year of hard-won transformation and growth for 11-year-old Brother (so-called because he is the youngest of four male siblings), who is left behind on the family farm to assist his aging grandparents while his single father is deployed to Iraq and his brothers are off at school and military service. Each chapter offers one wrenching or poignant scene per month: Brother rescues a stranded calf crying in a gully and is in turn rescued by his soon-to-depart father; he saves one sickly lamb but loses another; assisting with mass, he forms a friendship with the circuit-riding priest new to their tiny parish; he helps to birth his first calf; he witnesses a painful loss suffered by his closest friends—and then suffers a life-changing loss of his own. This is an old-fashioned novel in the best sense of the word, a novel that isn't embarrassed to show characters who are trying to be good, to do the right thing, to honor their values. The more Parry unflinchingly depicts the unremitting hardships of farm life, the more we all want to live there, yearning for the closeness to land, family, community, and faith that such hardships test and strengthen, and that this lovely novel so touchingly illuminates. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
School Library Journal

Gr 4-8

In this coming-of-age story, Ignatius, the youngest of five brothers in a military family grounded in the Christian faith, promises to take care of the ranch while his father is deployed in Iraq. Since his mother left years earlier to pursue life as an artist, and his older brothers are off to school or military training camps, the 11-year-old looks to his grandparents for guidance, but often feels angry and alone trying to keep his heroic promise. Although some of the realities of the Iraq war are threaded in, the author primarily focuses on the details of contemporary Oregonian ranch life. Ignatius's series of firsts that move him beyond his absolute, always-saying-never ways are the novel's most suspenseful scenes: he stitches up his brother's head, births a calf, and survives a wildfire. In the end, his relationships with his Quaker grandfather, an Ecuadoran shepherd who works on the ranch, and a new Catholic circuit priest help him to discover his true calling, to become a military chaplain. Despite a heavy-handed message and an unevenness in tone-the present-tense first-person narrative changes awkwardly between a reflective and an imaginary play voice-it remains a good purchase for readers who are looking for realistic fiction written from the point of view of a soldier's child, along with Maria Testa's Almost Forever (Candlewick, 2003) and Gary Paulsen's The Quilt (Random, 2004).-Sara Paulson, American Sign Language and English Lower School PS 347, New York City

Kirkus Reviews
Sixth-grader Ignatius-he goes by "Brother"-faces a hard year as his father is deployed to Iraq, and he, the youngest of five boys, is left with his aging grandparents to manage the family ranch in Oregon. The episodic presentation, with each chapter a vignette from one of the months his father is gone, effectively portrays the seasonal changes of farm life. The spare, evocative language of his first-person narration immediately captures readers' interest and never falters in describing a year in the life of this eminently likable boy trying hard to be the man of the house, facing up to one believable challenge after another. From raising orphaned lambs he names after hobbits to delivering a calf to rescuing a farmhand and the stock from a raging prairie fire, each event moves Brother toward a new sense of his own emotional strength. At once a gripping coming-of-age novel and a celebration of rural life, quiet heroism and the strength that comes from spirituality, this first novel is an unassuming, transcendent joy. (Fiction. 10 & up)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2008:
“This first novel is an unassuming, transcendent joy.”

Starred Review, Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2009:
"Brother's honest voice conveys an emotional terrain as thoughtfully developed as Parry's evocation of the Western landscape."

“Isn’t it wonderful that there are books like this—about good people, about striving, and about doing the right thing!”
—Patricia Reilly Giff, two-time recipient of the Newbery Honor

“A true evocation of modern ranch life, a life rooted in community and love, a life seldom written about with such grace and authenticity.”
—Molly Gloss, finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)
850L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Grandpa frowns when he plays chess, like he does when he prays. He's got a floppy mustache that pulls that frown right down past his chin. He used to have freckles like me, but I guess they expanded on him because his whole face is pack-mule tan, witha fan of wrinkles at the corners. Years and years of moving cattle and mending fences gives a man a fearsome look, and I bet if I work at it, I can look just like my grandpa by the time I go to board at the high school. But the fences are mended for now and the cows are up in the mountains with my older brothers, so Grandpa and me are playing chess out on the back porch.  

Grandpa's chessmen are world-famous around here. They came over the Oregon Trail with Grandpa's grandfather in the covered wagon, and before that they came straight from Paris, France. They were carved by hand from ebony for the dark side and ivory for the light. The pawns all have round helmets and longbows. Everyone else has a sword, even the bishops, and their faces are dead serious, which is what you want when there's a war on.  

Grandpa is the chess champ of Malheur County, Oregon. We've been playing each other for years, so I've got him pretty well sized up. He always opens by moving the middle pawn up two spaces. But after that first move, he's as wily as a badger and twice as tough. I haven't beaten him yet, but when I do, it will be worth a town parade.  

Now, to my mind, pawns are a shifty-looking bunch, plus they clutter up the board, so I try to clear most of them off right away, his and mine. I like my knights to have plenty of room to ride. My queen's knight rides a paint mustang. That horse has got a temper; she's lean and fast, and brave as a lion. My king's knight rides a Clydesdale; not so much speed, but plenty of power.  

Rosita's my queen, of course. She's a fifth grader up at the school, and my best friend's sister. She can birth a lamb and kill a rattlesnake with a slingshot, which is what I look for in a queen. Plus, she's as pretty as a day in spring, and she laughs when I'm the one talking.  

I bet Grandpa's working on putting me in a fork. That's his favorite move, but I see it coming a mile away, so I take a sip from a sweaty glass of lemonade and talk things over with the men. My king's bishop is all for killing Grandpa's queen before she can get us, because, after all, he is an excellent swordsman. The trouble is, Grandpa's queen would have to be Grandma, and I couldn't let anything bad happen to her, now could I? It's confession for sure, for killing your grandma.  

My queen's bishop and I talk the other bishop out of it, which we do a lot. The queen's bishop is the more reflective type because his hands are carved together for praying.  

Grandpa leans forward in his straight-backed chair, still frowning. Dad's orders sit on the card table beside the chessboard, in a tan army envelope. I made Dad show me, because I couldn't believe what he said. They're going to send him and the entire 87th Transportation Battalion all the way to Iraq. Reserve guys are only supposed to go places for two weeks—maybe three, if there's a hurricane in Texas. Fourteen months! It says Dad will be gone fourteen months, right in print. Like this is going to sound better to me than Dad is going to miss my birthday two years in a row.  

Grandma's got him in the kitchen. I can hear the buzz of the clippers through the screen door. She takes about two minutes to cut my hair, but she's been at it with Dad for half an hour. I think she just wants an excuse to rub some extra blessings into his head. I hope she keeps him in there for an hour. He's going to need all the blessings he can get in Baghdad.  

Grandpa pauses so long in the game, I get to wondering if he's even playing. He's been writing letters to our senator to oppose the war ever since it started. Half the Quaker congregations west of the Mississippi have signed them. Grandpa is not an out-loudworrier like Grandma. He just spends more time in the evening praying and writing in his journal.  

"He doesn't really have to go, does he?"  

Grandpa looks up from the board, straight at me.  

"He took a vow when he put on that uniform. A promise is a binding thing, Brother, before the law and before God, too."  

"God doesn't believe in war, does he? You don't."  

"Protest is my calling. Your dad's is to take care of the men in his command. He can be faithful in that."  

The sun is just starting to go orange, and the wind settles down like it does this time of day. The whole ranch gets quiet, like it's waiting for the next move. Grandpa scoots his bishop up three spaces. He looks at me and smiles.   A fork! I knew it. My queen's in danger! Her knight is on the other end of the fork. What'll I do?  

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