The Oxboy

The Oxboy

by Anne Mazer


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The award-winning allegorical fantasy about a boy who is half ox, half-human-now in paperback for the first time. An ALA Notable Book; a Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies. "No one can tell that I am the son of an ox. Like my father, I am hardworking, and I have a stubborn, tenacious nature. But so do many pure humans..." In the mythic past, when people and animals lived side by side, were friends, married and had offspring, the oxboy would have been accepted and safe. But now he is an outcast and must hide his true identity-or die. Anne Mazer's stunning allegorical fantasy examines our relationship with nature-and our feelings about our own natures-as it reveals and challenges our deepest prejudices.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780892552405
Publisher: Persea Books
Publication date: 02/28/2000
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 4.50(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Anne Mazer is the author of several widely acclaimed books, including the novels Moose Street and The Oxboy, and a picture book, The Salamander Room, winner of the Keystone to Reading Book Award and a Reading Rainbow Feature Selection.
Anthologies from edited by Mazer include: America Street, Going Where I'm Coming From, A Walk in My World, and Working Days. Mazer grew up in Syracuse, NY and lives in Ithaca, NY.

Read an Excerpt

The Oxboy

By Anne Mazer


Copyright © 2000 Anne Mazer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4532-9402-4


My Father

No one can tell that I am the son of an ox. Like my father, I am hardworking, and I have a stubborn, tenacious nature. But so do many pure humans. Like any farm boy bred in the open air, I have broad shoulders and brown skin. Some call me ugly. I have a wide nose with flaring nostrils and a low forehead over which coarse brown hair falls in thick clumps. My toenails and fingernails are extremely hard. My eyes, however, are delicate and almond-shaped—an inheritance from my tall and graceful mother that sits oddly on my blunt features.

My mother has no close friends, and I have never met her relations. I may have grandparents, cousins, and aunts, as other children, but I have not so much as heard their names. My mother cut all connection with her family when she and my father ran away together.

I have not forgotten my father, though he left when I was five. He was never a father like all the others; kinder, perhaps. Together we roamed through the fields for hours, and from his back I used to reach for the hanging pear or the high, ripe berry. Sometimes my mother would join us, and then we wore crowns of daisies that she wove for us.

When my father wanted to rest, he would drop to the ground and put his head in my mother's lap. His powerful muscles tensed and then relaxed. And she would comb his long coarse hair until his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep. Then my mother too would fall asleep, while I searched the ground for my father's hairs. I lined my pockets with great handfuls of them; they made a soft bed for the insects I liked to play with.

Each year my father left us for a short time to join his brothers and sisters, the intelligent animals of the forest. They hid from men, and even from certain animals, and were so difficult to find that my father sometimes came home without catching a glimpse of them. The year I was five he returned tired and thin but glowing with happiness. A blue velvet sack hung from his neck. Inside were a handful of pearly stones he had brought back for me. He promised that he would take me with him on his next journey into the forest.

When my father was away, my mother would always tell me the story of how she met him. How she had wandered far from home and found herself in a strange meadow. She was searching for a path or stream to follow when a great brown ox came out of the forest.

She trembled in fear, but then the ox spoke to her.

"My lady, do not be afraid." His voice was soft and deep. "I will not hurt you."

Like all children, my mother had learned in school that oxen were degraded beasts of burden whose sole purpose was to toil in the fields for men. The few such animals she had known were miserable starved creatures, gelded, with long welts along their hides, who drank foul water and ate moldy hay. But this ox was a splendid creature. Its muscles surged under its glossy coat; its eyes were bright yet gentle. She had never seen an animal like that, an animal that could be called beautiful.

The ox told her to climb onto his back, and she obeyed. Then he carried her swiftly home. He let her off where no one would see him, then vanished into the forest.

When she got home, she could not stop thinking of the ox.

"I went to find him the next week," said my mother, "though if I had been discovered, we both would have been killed.

"We became closer and closer. One day I went to see him and never went home. We roamed for a long time through pathless forests, meeting the hidden animals, both intelligent and dumb. Then we came here with you ..."

The cottage where my mother, my father, and I lived was like a sweet-smelling barn. It was far off the main road, at the end of a tumbled path overgrown with clover and blackberries. Stacked in the living room were bales of prickly hay that I could climb on or hide behind. My mother made a bed of straw for my father in their room, where he sometimes slept. In the morning he came to the table, where she set a dish of fresh water for him. She scattered hay for grazing over our floor—our house always smelled fresh and clean. At night when he wanted to come in from the fields, my father poked his head through the window and my mother opened wide the kitchen door for him.

Sometimes my father stayed in the barn. In the morning I would leap from my bed and run to the barn, where I would fling open the doors. Then I would climb the long ropes that hung from the rafters and swing over the bales of hay. My father would pretend to be sleeping, and I would land right on his back. Then with a great cry he would clamber to his feet, stamp out the door, and gallop around and around the yard while I screamed with joy.

And so I lived for the first five years of my life.


The Prince and the Cat

Often at night, after we had finished our supper, my father stretched out on the living room floor while my mother wound spools of brightly colored yarn that she wove into blankets for my father and me. Sometimes my father asked for a story. I leaned against his warm flanks. My mother put down the yarn. Then she began.

"In the beginning of time, animals and humans lived separately, and neither thought to intrude on the other's world. They caught glimpses of each other when animals strayed to the towns or men and women wandered too far in the forests, but both were mysterious to the other.

"A prince was born. It was foretold that he would dream of animals, and as a young boy he often dreamed of a majestic gray cat who spoke to him. The prince was an unusual student, and by the time he was twenty-one he spoke and read eight hundred languages.

"The hall where the prince held court was often filled with scores of visitors all speaking at once, none in the same tongue. To go to his hall, some said, was like being at the ocean—many separate voices blending into one unfathomable wave. Only the prince could distinguish the individual strands in the roar of language.

"One day while the prince was walking in a meadow a cat appeared and began to follow him.

"The cat was gray and large, with pale blue eyes that watched the prince constantly. The cat went home with the prince that night, and the prince invited the cat first to his table, where he fed him with his own hand from a milk-white dish, and then to his chamber, where he made a bed for him on a heap of cushions.

"Soon the cat and the prince were inseparable companions.

"When the prince bathed in the river, the great cat slept on the bank. When the prince sat in his library and pored over his books written in all the languages of the world, the cat peered over his shoulder as though he too were reading every word.

"During the audiences the prince held in his hall, the cat, tail twitching and blue eyes gazing steadily, lay at the prince's feet as if sitting in judgment over all the lords, ladies, and simple people of the land.

"One day while the prince was holding court, the cat rose and began to speak. 'My gracious lord,' he said. 'Now is the time.'

"The prince ordered the hall emptied.

"The prince and the cat stayed together in the hall thirty days and thirty nights. No one was allowed to enter except to bring food, drink, or bedding. The men and women of the court gathered outside the door, straining to hear their prince's voice. But all they heard was a faint or sometimes louder mewing, and then silence.

"When the prince and the cat emerged, the prince announced that he had learned the language of cats.

"'This cat knows many things which men and women cannot apprehend through their five senses. He has a wisdom equal to, or greater than, mine.'

"'The cat tells me that each species has its healing lore, its wisdom and knowledge. Some animals have found the secret of peace and contentment.'

"Then the prince declared that he was leaving for the forest. 'For I would make the acquaintance of the many animals there, in order to learn their language and teach them ours, and to gain help for humankind.'

"Soon after, the prince disappeared, leaving the cat to rule and counsel in his place. For the cat was a king among his own kind, and well-equipped to rule.

"The prince roamed in the wild as both student and teacher. The gray cat fell in love with a musical lady of the court who played the harp and flute, and they were married the next spring, when the prince returned. The wedding was held in a large field and was attended by men, women, bears, wolves, foxes, leopards, cats, and lions.

"At the feast that followed, the prince announced that as a wedding gift, he was leaving his kingdom in trust to the cat and his bride, while he would continue to search out the many animals of the forest.

"The gray cat and his lady bride ruled wisely and well, as did their five sons after them—tall and dashing feline princes with pale blue eyes, pointed claws, and upturned whiskers.

"That was the First Wedding. From that time on, humans and other animals began to marry."

My father always sighed contentedly at the end of this story. And later I climbed between the cool sheets of my bed and listened to the howls, squeals, and roars that came from the forest every night. Sometimes I was afraid of these strange noises, but after my mother would tell us this story, I would hear them as the calls of my brothers and sisters.


We Are Betrayed

One day my father and I were plowing the garden together. The earth was wet and resisted the plow, but my father was strong. Although it was a misty spring day, the sun burned through the clouds, and soon I had to take off my jacket and pour a bucket of water over my father's back to cool him.

We were breaking new ground, and I was tossing rocks aside, when my father halted.

Even at five years of age I knew how unusual it was for him to stop in the middle of work.

I jiggled the harness, but he didn't budge. "Father?"

I turned then and saw my mother. She was running toward us, her dress muddied, her hands empty. In spite of the heat of the day and her exertion, her face was white as a stone. Behind her a bedsheet floated from a clothesline, and a flock of north-flying geese circled overhead.

She came to a halt a few feet away from us. "You must go," she called to my father.

My father moved toward her, and she held up her hand to stop him. "They are coming," my mother said. "We are betrayed. The hunters are coming."

They had forgotten about me, standing by the plow.

"I saw them at the market," my mother said. "I came as fast as I could. They bragged about the bounty you would bring them."

"Are you sure?" my father asked. "Were they not speaking of another?"

"They spoke of a bull living outside the town with a young woman and a boy."

The wind picked up and the sun went behind a cloud, and I was suddenly cold and wanted to be inside our cottage in front of a fire and playing with the pearly stones my father had brought me not too long ago.

"Who has betrayed us?" my father asked.

"Louk," said my mother.

The beggar's skinny crooked face with its fierce eyes rose up before me. My mother had given him cakes and bread when she saw him at the market. Once, during a snowstorm, he had knocked on our door. Luckily my father was in the barn, but I had seen Louk staring suspiciously at the bales of hay in our living room.

In the morning my mother had gone to the barn to bring my father fresh hay and water.

"Why do you feed that bull before yourself?" Louk had asked when she came back.

It was the first time I had heard my father referred to as a bull, and in Louk's mouth the word had a menacing sound.

"Oh, I am not hungry," my mother said.

"The boy has not eaten either."

I was young and did not understand. I snatched a handful of hay from behind the couch and stuffed it into my mouth. "Here is my breakfast!" I announced.

Louk's dark eyes glittered. "Ah ..."

"Take that out of your mouth!" my mother ordered in a voice I had never heard before.

"Are you a human boy or an animal?"

Her words confused me, and I began to cry.

My mother ignored my tears. Instead she turned to Louk. "You must be hungry. I have many good things for you. Come, seat yourself at our table."

"Louk sold us for a bounty," my mother now said to my father. "Go. Go!"

"I will not leave you," said my father, but my mother had already sprung forward and was freeing him from his harness.

"You must go—and quickly."

My father shook his head.

"They will kill the boy." She whispered this. "They will kill all of us if they find you here."

Only then did my father bow his head. He turned to me one last time and nuzzled my cheek with his soft cool nose, then disappeared into the forest.


The Blue Hunters

In the cottage my mother took out A bucket and a mop and began to clean. I leaned out the window as though my father might be there by the barn, waiting for me to run out and jump on his back. But the barn and yard were empty.

My mother carried the bales of hay stacked behind the couch out to the barn. She flung open the windows, washed the bedding, and scrubbed floors, ceilings, closets, and shelves. She went from room to room plucking stray hairs and bits of straw from carpets and chairs, sweeping all the long coarse brown hairs into a pile which she burned in the fireplace. Then she made me empty my pockets into the fireplace too.

When she had finished with the house, she took me outside, where we shoveled piles of dung and spread it in the garden my father had plowed. Then we planted squash and watermelon and pumpkins and tomatoes.

When my mother had eradicated every trace of my father from the house and the yard, she sat on the couch and stared at the empty wall. I played near her, hiding behind the couch and building towers with my pearly stones.

The hunters did not come that day. They did not come the next day. Or the day after.

When they knocked at our door, it was I who opened it.

One man stepped forward. He was a local farmer, a friendly man, large and jovial, who had given me a whistle once when I had gone to market with my mother and who always complimented us on our fine produce.

But today he had a rifle slung over his shoulder, wore a long red jacket, and his face—like the others' faces—was painted blue. I fled behind the couch.

My mother rose and spoke in the manner of our country. "What may I give you this day?"

"We are looking for your husband," said the man. His face shone blue and cruel like the moon, and I retreated farther behind the couch.

"My husband is dead."

"Who is the child's father?"

"I told you he was dead."

The man walked over to the fireplace, where he picked up an iron shovel and turned over the ashes. Another one of the blue hunters opened cupboards and took out cups and saucers, plates and napkins. He ran his fingers over the bare shelves, peered inside empty milk pitchers, tapped walls.

"I do not know what you search for," said my mother. "We have nothing, my son and I."

The hunters did not answer. Two of them went into the bedroom. When they came out, one man was holding a single stalk of hay, which he twirled thoughtfully between his thumb and his forefinger.

They asked to see our papers.

From a small drawer in the kitchen table my mother brought out some documents, shiny silver pieces of paper that gleamed as she walked across the room.

The leader scanned the papers quickly. "My apologies, lady."

Then he looked at me. I had come out from behind the couch and was hanging on to my mother's leg.

"Where are his papers?" he asked. "The child's papers were burned in a fire," my mother said. "I am sending away for new ones. They haven't arrived yet."

The man stared at both of us for a long moment.

He adjusted the rifle on his shoulder. "You had better get him a father fast."

The blue hunters tramped out the door. They didn't bother to shut it behind them.

A few days later we left our house, our beds, our table and warm fireplace, and the garden we had so carefully tended. Taking only a few belongings that could fit into a cloth sack, we traveled until we reached the town where my mother found work as a seamstress and eventually married my stepfather.



My mother, stepfather, and I live in a small gray house on the edge of town. There are three rooms in our house: downstairs, a kitchen and a room where my mother and stepfather sleep; upstairs, the attic, which is mine and which contains my bed, a bureau, and a box of my things. At one end of my attic is a small dusty window. The ceilings are low. I cannot walk upright, but it is my room and my stepfather never enters.

There is nothing exceptional about our lives. My mother gardens and makes clothes for small children during the day. My stepfather works in the glass factory. I go to school.

So far no one has questioned my human status. No one except my mother and me knows about my father. Not even my stepfather. He would not have married my mother had he known. When they met, my mother told him that my father had been killed in a fire. My stepfather did not ask for my papers. He is not much interested in me. But my mother made sure to tell him that my papers had been burned in the same fire that had killed my father.

"You had better get them duplicated before the boy goes to school," my stepfather replied.


Excerpted from The Oxboy by Anne Mazer. Copyright © 2000 Anne Mazer. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

My Father3
The Prince and the Cat10
We Are Betrayed17
The Blue Hunters22
Pure Blood of the Human Race36
A Family Meal46
The Rescue66
The Otter's Tales77
To the Forest100

What People are Saying About This

Chaim Potok

An exquisitely told tale of a purely imaginary mythical world, whose 'people' and 'animals' are both disturbingly similar to, and quite different from, our own…The Oxboy leaves one both moved and edgy. In other words, it's a really good book.
—(Chaim Potok)

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