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On Sale: January 13, 2010
Pages: 176 | ISBN: 978-0-307-57451-0
Published by : Laurel Leaf RH Childrens Books

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Originally published in hardcover in 1972, A Day No Pigs Would Die was one of the first young adult books, along with titles like The Outsiders and The Chocolate War. In it, author Robert Newton Peck weaves a story of
a Vermont boyhood that is part fiction, part memoir. The result is a moving coming-of-age story that still resonates with teens today.


I should have been in school that April day.
But instead I was up on the ridge near the old spar mine above our farm, whipping the gray trunk of a rock maple with a dead stick, and hating Edward Thatcher. During recess, he’d pointed at my clothes and made sport of them. Instead of tying into him, I’d turned tail and run off. And when Miss Malcom rang the bell to call us back inside, I was halfway home.
Picking up a stone, I threw it into some bracken ferns, hard as I could. Someday that was how hard I was going to light into Edward Thatcher, and make him bleed like a stuck pig. I’d kick him from one end of Vermont to the other, and sorry him good. I’d teach him not to make fun of Shaker ways. He’d never show his face in the town of Learning, ever again. No, sir.
A painful noise made me whip my head around and jump at the same time. When I saw her, I knew she was in bad trouble.
It was the big Holstein cow, one of many, that belonged to our near neighbor, Mr. Tanner. This one he called “Apron” because she was mostly black, except for the white along her belly which went up her front and around her neck like a big clean apron. She was the biggest cow, Mr. Tanner told Papa, and his best milker. And he was fixing up to take her to Rutland Fair, come summer.
As I ran toward her, she made her dreadful noise again. I got close up and saw why. Her big body was pumping up and down, trying to have her calf. She’d fell down and there was blood on her foreleg, and her mouth was all thick and foamy with yellow-green spit. I tried to reach my hand out and pat her head; but she was wild-eyed mean, and making this breezy noise almost every breath.
Turning away from me, she showed me her swollen rump. Her tail was up and arched high, whipping through the air with every heave of her back. Sticking out of her was the head and one hoof of her calf. His head was so covered with blood and birth sop that I had no way of telling he was alive or dead. Until I heard him bawl.
Apron went crashing through the puckerbush, me right behind. I’d never caught up. But because she had to stop and strain, I got to the calf’s head and got a purchase on him.
He was so covered with slime, and Apron was so wandering, there was no holding to it. Besides, being just twelve years old, I weighed a bit over a hundred pounds. Apron was comfortable over a thousand, and it wasn’t much of a tug for her. As I went down, losing my grip on the calf’s neck, her hoof caught my shinbone and it really smarted. The only thing that made me get up and give the whole idea another go was when he bawled again.
I’d just wound up running away from Edward Thatcher and running away from the schoolhouse. I was feathered if I was going to run away from one darn more thing.
I needed a rope. But there wasn’t any, so I had to make one. It didn’t have to be long, just strong.
Chasing old Apron through the next patch of prickers sure took some fun out of the whole business. I made my mistake of trying to take my trousers off as I ran. No good. So I sat down in the prickers, yanked ‘em off over my boots, and caught up to Apron. After a few bad tries, I got one pantleg around her calf’s head and knotted it snug.
“Calf,” I said to him, “you stay up to your ma’s hindside and you’re about to choke. So you might as well choke getting yourself born.”
Whatever old Apron decided that I was doing to her back yonder, she didn’t take kindly to it. So she started off again with me in the rear, hanging on to wait Christmas, and my own bare butt and privates catching a thorn with every step. And that calf never coming one inch closer to coming out. But when Apron stopped to heave again I got the other pantleg around a dogwood tree that was about thick as a fencepost.
Now only three things could happen: My trousers would rip. Apron would just uproot the tree. The calf would slide out.
But nothing happened. Apron just stood shaking and heaving and straining and never moved forward a step. I got the other pantleg knotted about the dogwood; and like Apron, I didn’t know what to do next.
Her calf bawled once more, making a weaker noise than before. But all Apron did was
heave in that one place.
“You old bitch,” I yelled at her, grabbing a dead blackberry cane that was as long as a bullwhip and big around as a broom handle, “you move that big black smelly ass, you hear?”
I never hit anybody, boy or beast, as I hit that cow. I beat her so hard I was crying. Where I held the big cane, the thorns were chewing up my hands real bad. But it only got me madder.
I kicked her. And stoned her. I kicked her again one last time, so hard in the udder that I thought I heard her grunt. Both her hind quarters sort of hunkered down in the brush. Then she started forward, my trousers went tight, I heard a rip and a calf bawl. And a big hunk of hot stinking stuff went all over me. Some of it was calf, some of it wasn’t.
As I went down under the force and weight of it, I figured something either got dead or got born.
All I knew was that I was snarled up in a passel of wet stuff, and there was a strong cord holding me against something that was very hot and kicked a lot. I brushed some of the slop away from my eyes and looked up. And there was Apron, her big black head and her big black mouth licking first me and her calf.
But she was far from whole. Her mouth was open and she was grasping for air. She stumbled once. I thought for sure I was going to wind up being under a very big cow. The noise in her throat came at me again, and her tongue lashed to and fro like a tail of a clock. It looked to me as if there was something in her mouth. She would start to breathe and then, like a cork in a bottle, some darn thing in there would cut it off.
Her big body swayed like she was dizzy or sick. As the front of her fell to her knees, her head hit my chest as I lay on the ground, her nose almost touching my chin. She had stopped breathing!
Her jaw was locked open so I put my hand in her mouth, but felt only her swollen tongue. I stretched my fingers up into her throat- and there it was! A hard ball, about apple-size. It was stuck in her windpipe, or her gullet. I didn’t know which and didn’t care. So I shut my eyes, grabbed it, and yanked.
Somebody told me once that a cow won’t bite. That somebody is as wrong as sin on Sunday. I thought my arm had got sawed off part way between elbow and shoulder. She bit and bit and never let go. She got to her feet and kept on biting.
That devil cow ran down off that ridge with my arm in her mouth, and dragging me half-naked with her. What she didn’t do to me with her teeth, she did with her front hoofs.
It should have been broad daylight, but it was night. Black night. As black and bloody and bad as getting hurt again and again cold ever be.
It just went on and on. It didn’t quit.
Robert Newton Peck

About Robert Newton Peck

Robert Newton Peck - A Day No Pigs Would Die
Robert Newton Peck comes from generations of Yankee farmers. Like the Vermont folk he writes about in his novel, he was raised as a boy in the Shaker Way, which endured even after the sect itself had died out. Its view of life is embodied in the character of his young protagonist's father, who believed that a faith is more blessed when put to use than when put to word: "A man's worship counts for naught, unless his dog and cat are the better for it."
Praise | Awards


“Reading this book is like sipping hot cider in front of a crackling potbellied stove. Every page is suffused with wit and charm and glowing with warmth.”–Newsweek

“A lovely book. . . . Honest, moving, homely in the warm and simple sense of the word. . . . It is small, accepting and loving and it succeeds perfectly.”–Boston Globe

“You’ll find yourself caught up in the novel’s emotion from the very opening scene. . . . Love suffuses every page.”–The New York Times

"With plenty of Yankee common sense and dry wit, and some pathos as the boy at 13 takes on the duties of a man. For boys of this age and for the young of any age."--School Library Journal.


WINNER 1973 School Library Journal Best Book of the Year
WINNER 1973 Library of Congress Children's Books of the Year
WINNER 1972 Colorado Children's Book Award
WINNER 1973 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


In this classic autobiographical novel set in the 1920s in rural Vermont, 12-year-old Robert Peck comes of age when his father dies and leaves him to manage the farm.

Robert Peck lives with his family in rural Vermont where his illiterate father makes a living killing pigs. Dedicated to hard work and plain living, Haven Peck rears his son according to strict Shaker laws. For this reason, Rob is an outsider at school, and often faces taunts and sneers from his schoolmates. Rob’s only friend is Pinky, a pig given to him by his neighbor, Mr. Tanner, as a thank you for saving his cow. Pinky turns out to be barren, and Rob’s dreams of raising pigs to help the family pay their farm debts are destroyed. Instead, he is forced to watch as his father butchers the pig. The ultimate death of Haven Peck makes Rob, according to Shaker law, the head of the household, and at 13 his journey to manhood is complete.


Robert Newton Peck was born in 1928 in rural Vermont where he spent his childhood working the family farm alongside his father, Haven Peck. Before becoming a writer, Peck worked as a lumberjack, hog butcher, and in a paper mill. A graduate of Rollins College, Peck’s first novel, A Day No Pigs Would Die, is based on the memories of his father and his Shaker upbringing. The author of the Soup books and Weeds in Bloom: Autobiography of an Ordinary Man, Robert Newton Peck has written more than 60 books. He lives in Florida.


Pre-reading Activity

Ask students to use books in the library or sites on the Internet to find out about the Shakers. Have the class construct a timeline that begins with Mother Ann Lee’s arrival in America in 1774 to the gradual decline of the Shaker societies.

Thematic Connections

FAMILY–Describe Robert’s relationship with his family. How is Haven Peck a role model to Robert? Discuss why Robert kisses his father’s bloody hand after he slaughters Pinky. According to Shaker tradition, Robert becomes the head of the family when his father dies. Explain how Robert’s mom and Aunt Carrie begin treating him as the head of the household immediately following Haven’s death. How does Robert prove that he is ready to take on the role?

FRIENDSHIP–Define friendship from Robert’s point of view. How is Pinky Robert’s best friend? At what point does Robert realize that Mr. Tanner is his friend? Why is Robert surprised when so many people show up for his father’s funeral? Describe Haven Peck’s kindness to others. How does the way he lived his life reflect the Shaker belief: “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself”?

ISOLATION–Discuss how Robert feels isolated from his peers and community. How does he deal with such isolation? In many ways, Robert has no childhood. Debate whether this contributes to his feelings of isolation. Discuss scenes in the novel when Robert expresses his desire to be like the other kids. How does going to the Rutland Fair with Mr. Tanner broaden Robert’s life? At what moment does he fully accept being an outsider?

COMING OF AGE–Trace Robert’s journey to manhood from the beginning of the novel to the end. How does he prove his manhood? Though Edward Thatcher is a minor character in the novel, he plays a large role in defining Robert’s character. Compare Robert’s coming of age to that of boys in his school like Edward Thatcher. Which of the boys can expect the longest journey?

DEATH–What is Haven Peck’s attitude toward death? Debate whether he knew that he was about to die. How does he prepare Robert for his death? After the funeral, Robert returns to his father’s grave before going to bed. What is the significance of this scene? How is the entire novel a celebration of life and death?

ACCEPTANCE–Discuss how the Shakers view other religions. Mr. Tanner and Aunt Matty are Baptists. How does Robert’s view of the Baptists change by the end of the novel? When Haven Peck dies, Robert’s hopes of continuing his education die. Discuss how Robert accepts his fate.

Connecting to the Curriculum

LANGUAGE ARTS–Read “The Mending Wall” by Robert Frost www.robertfrost.org/poem2.html). Ask students to write an essay that draws a comparison between the theme of the poem and Haven Peck’s views about fences (p. 19). Why is “Good Fences Make Good Neighbors” an appropriate title for the essay?

Robert delivers a very simple eulogy at Haven Peck’s funeral. Consider the beliefs of the Shakers, and write the eulogy that Robert might have given.

Aunt Matty attempts to help Robert improve his English. Select a paragraph from the novel and rewrite it in Standard English. How does the language change the flavor of the book?

SOCIAL STUDIES–Ask students to read about utopian societies in 18th and 19th century America. Why were the Shakers considered a utopian society? Write a comparison of the Shaker society to other utopian societies like Brook Farm, the Rappites, the Oneida Community, and the Amana Colonies. Students may wish to further explore how these early societies compare to communal living in the 20th century.

–The Shakers grew and used herbs for many purposes. Divide the class into small groups and ask them to take a look at the Sabbathday Lake Herb Catalog (www.shaker.lib.me.us/catalog.html). Assign each group several culinary herbs, and ask them to find out when the herbs are planted and harvested. Have the groups submit three recipes for each herb to be included in a class cookbook.

ART–The Shakers were known for their simple and utilitarian crafts. Ask students to use the internet or books in the library to find examples of Shaker crafts. Make a postcard that features one of the crafts. Include a short description of the item on the back of the postcard.

MUSIC–Singing was an important part of the Shaker religion. Though the very first songs written by the Shakers were wordless, they also wrote ballads, hymns, and anthems. Write a ballad that might be appropriate to sing at Haven Peck’s funeral.

Culminating Activity

A Day No Pigs Would Die
has been the target of censors because of the graphic descriptions of the mating, births, and killing of farm animals. Ask students to take the side of the censor or the defender, and write a letter to the newspaper about the book’s place in the curriculum.


Though the vocabulary in the novel is not difficult, there are words that are unique to the historical period and the Shaker culture. Ask students to jot down unfamiliar words and try to define the words, taking clues from the context of the story. Such words may include: purchase (p. 5), burdened (p. 12), mattock (p. 23), capstan (p.30), digger (p. 30), mirthful (p. 34), vapors (p. 53), tribulation (p. 58), quern (p. 85), perverts (p. 92), and barren (p. 113).


An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year


“With plenty of Yankee common sense and dry wit, and some pathos as the boy at 13 takes on the duties of a man. For boys of this age and for the young of any age.”–School Library Journal


Weeds in Bloom:
Autobiography of an
Ordinary Man
Robert Newton Peck
Grades 6 up / 0-375-82801-X
Random House

A Part of the Sky
Robert Newton Peck
Coming of Age • Family • Death
Grades 7 up / 0-679-88696-6
Random House

The Beet Fields
Gary Paulsen
Coming of Age
Grades 8 up / 0-440-41557-8


Prepared by Pat Scales, Director of Library Services, the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, Greenville, South Carolina



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