Little Joe

Little Joe

4.8 6
by Sandra Neil Wallace, Mark Elliott

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It’s a cold December night and Fancy, the Stegner family’s cow, is about to give birth. Out pops Little Joe, a huge bull calf, and with him comes nine-year-old Eli’s first chance to raise an animal to show at next fall’s county fair. Over the next ten months, Eli, and Little Joe, learn some hard lessons about growing up and what it means to


It’s a cold December night and Fancy, the Stegner family’s cow, is about to give birth. Out pops Little Joe, a huge bull calf, and with him comes nine-year-old Eli’s first chance to raise an animal to show at next fall’s county fair. Over the next ten months, Eli, and Little Joe, learn some hard lessons about growing up and what it means to take on bigger responsibilities, especially when it comes to taking care of another living thing. But one thing Eli is trying not to think about is what will happen to Little Joe after the fair: it’s auction time, and he’ll have to sell Little Joe!
In this appealing and heartwarming story that’s reminiscent of James Herriot’s books, Eli comes to terms with some of the realities of life on his family’s farm, and in the outside world, as he raises his first bull calf for competition. Told in a straightforward and appealing text, brimming with lush details about the natural world of the farm, and with characters that are sure to appeal to readers, Eli’s story is one that may not be familiar to every kid, but the themes of growing up and learning some difficult lessons will appeal to kids and adults alike.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Barbara Carroll Roberts
Eli thinks a newborn calf is just about the best Christmas gift anyone could get. So when Pa says the new calf born on Christmas Eve is Eli's own to raise and show at the fair, Eli is ecstatic. But being responsible for raising and training a calf is much more challenging than he expects. Teaching the calf, Little Joe, to wear a halter and be led by a rope leaves Eli's hands so cut up with rope burns, he has to get stitches. Weaning the calf keeps Eli up all night as Little Joe bawls for his mother. And training Little Joe for the show ring takes hours and hours of concentrated work. Then there's the worry—will Little Joe be good enough to win a blue ribbon? And worst of all, Pa says Eli must sell Little Joe at the fair. How will Eli ever bear to part with the calf he's raised from a newborn? Newly independent readers who like books about animals will enjoy this gentle story of life on a cattle farm, but those who like action and adventure will find it far too slow. In addition, though Wallace shows ability with vivid descriptions, her characters don't rise far above stereotypes—Pa is gruff and all-business; Grandpa is loving and patient; Ma exists mostly to prepare food and keep little sister Hannah out of the way; and Hannah is such a silly, scaredy-cat girl, and so marginalized by Eli's disdain for her, she seems to be lifted straight out a book from the 1950s. In addition, Wallace's choice to have all the characters speak in what one assumes is supposed to be a "country" vernacular—with dropped Gs and fractured grammar—simply doesn't ring true. Eli and his family don't sound like farmers, they sound like caricatures, making the book a poor choice for a read-aloud. The full-page, black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout the book are attractive and nicely done, but don't add much to the story. All in all, though this is a nice story, it's unlikely to capture the attention of children who don't already love reading about animals. Reviewer: Barbara Carroll Roberts
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—This is a sweet book about the relationships among three generations of farmers—Eli Stegner, his father, and his grandfather. It is also about Eli's connection to the first calf he gets to call his own. Little Joe is destined to be a winner at the county fair cattle show, but that blue ribbon will pretty much insure that he goes to the highest bidder and then to the butcher. Such is the reality of farm life. However, Eli and Joe are in for a happy ending, as are the boy and his father, whose relationship evolves from one of prickly distance to mutual understanding, thanks to the gentle influence of Eli's grandfather. A helpful diagram shows the parts of a beef animal. This thoughtful, tender book will appeal to those readers who are familiar with the Stegners' world, and many more will be able to identify with the highs and lows of familial love.—Alyson Low, Fayetteville Public Library, AR

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
710L (what's this?)
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

Meet the Author

Sandra Neil Wallace is a former television sportscaster at ESPN and has written for various magazines for both children and adults. Until recently she lived next door to a family-owned and -operated cattle farm in eastern Pennsylvania, which provided the inspiration for her debut novel, Little Joe, as well as much of the technical information in the book. She now lives in Keene, New Hampshire, with her husband and fellow Knopf author, Rich Wallace.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Little Joe 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
MLouisa More than 1 year ago
I picked up Little Joe, looking for a story about farm life and what I found was a wonderful tale of compassion and coming of age for a young boy. Little Joe is cast in a rural setting where a young boy, Eli, is given the opportunity to raise his first show cow from birth. With a long history in his family of prized show animals, Eli finds himself struggling to reconcile the beliefs of his father, regarding raising cows for beef, to the feelings he begins to develop on his own as he engages in the life of Little Joe. Little Joe is a warm tale of very human issues, of family differences and of the process of growing up and into one's own. Sandra Neil Wallace's use of language left me feeling refreshed, as if I discovered a new author who truly knows how to write. The story became one I did not want to put down, anxiously awaiting the outcome of Little Joe. As a city-kid, this book gave me an insight into how different a rural child's upbringing and life-issues might be, while also surprisingly letting me know, some growing up experiences are not too far apart no matter how far the corn or the concrete stretches. I loved the story, and I loved the resources Wallace has on her website between blue ribbons for her readers to teacher guides to engage the student's beyond just the story. I look forward to seeing what comes next from this very talented new voice!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Little joe is a wonderful must read book ages big and small will enjoy it very much.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Little joe is off the hook
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a smile and cry kind of book
scorpioreader More than 1 year ago
It's rare that a novel for newly independent readers is as fascinating in authentic details as it is in storytelling. Little Joe certainly is. The book has just been chosen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a selection for its National Reading Program, called Agriculture in the Classroom, and says, "Little Joe is a compassionate, realistic tale of a young boy who raises a bull calf for competition in his county fair. Great for young readers who are starting chapter books, this book presents a picture of one family's daily life and their struggles and triumphs. Though heartwarming and engaging to the reader, this book remains an accurate, in-depth account of life on the farm."
alan_s More than 1 year ago
Ms. Wallace has done an outstanding job of capturing the rhythms, joys, and setbacks of life on a small Pennsylvania cattle farm. The relationship between nine-year-old Eli and his newborn calf demonstrates the boy's vulnerabilities as he and Little Joe grow from childhood toward maturity over the course of three seasons on the farm. Underlying the vivid and exciting moments as they prepare for the county fair is the understanding that the auction at the fair will be their last time together. Strong characterizations and authentic dialogue show a powerful dichotomy in the attitude toward raising cattle between Eli's father and grandfather, and illustrate Eli's own struggle to find the balance. The author shows a learned ear for the nuances and subtleties of everyday rural speech, bringing even the secondary characters to life with humor and compassion. This is a great read-aloud -- my kids love it.