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  • The Beef Princess of Practical County
  • Written by Michelle Houts
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  • The Beef Princess of Practical County
  • Written by Michelle Houts
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780375891861
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Written by Michelle HoutsAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Michelle Houts


List Price: $7.99


On Sale: April 14, 2009
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89186-1
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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After years of waiting, it is finally Libby Ryan’s turn to shine at the Practical County Fair. Libby is filled with excitement as she and her granddad pick out two calves for her to raise on her family’s cattle farm, in hopes of winning the annual steer competition. Against her father’s advice, Libby gives the calves names, even though both steers will eventually be auctioned off. After a few months of preparing for the Practical County Fair, Libby finds that she is growing closer to her steers with each passing day, and the pressure to win Grand Champion is mounting.

Luckily, Libby can count on her best friend to get her through most of the county fair chaos. Yet once reality sets in and she realizes that her steers will soon be sold to the highest bidder, the chaos in Libby’s heart becomes
too much to bear.

Michelle Houts lives on a grain and livestock farm in West Central Ohio with her husband and three children. This is her first novel.

From the Hardcover edition.


Granddad's Pasture

They were total opposites from the very beginning. It was almost a year ago that I first saw them. It was a sunny Saturday morning in early September, and if I hadn't seen a calendar, I would have thought it was still midsummer. The air was heavy and sticky already at nine-thirty in the morning, when Dad, Frannie, and I piled out of the rusty old pickup at the gate to Granddad's pasture.

I loved the pasture. It always gave me a comfortable, kind of homey feeling. There was just something about acres and acres of green with big brown and black dots scattered all over, slowly moving and munching, like furry lawn mowers, keeping the grass all even and neatly trimmed. But pasture ground was a rare sight in Practical County.

"Northern Indiana farm ground's just too good for pasturing," I'd heard Dad say many times. What he meant was a man could earn a better profit raising a crop of corn or soybeans than he could growing grass for cattle to eat.

That was why Granddad's pasture was so perfect. With little rolling hills, a winding creek that cut a jagged path diagonally through it, and a couple of acres of woods, it would have been a nightmare to till, plant, and harvest.

As we stood at the gate, all of Granddad's calves loped eagerly over to greet us. All but one. In fact, that one acted downright uninterested in any of us while his herdmates licked our hands with their long, rough tongues.

The week-old calves wrapped their tongues around my fingers and tugged. That's a calf's way of saying, "Pleased to make your acquaintance," Dad had explained when I was no bigger than Frannie, my four-year-old sister, who at that moment was walking the fence. I watched her teetering, arms out straight, her mess of blond curls flapping behind as she placed one tennis-shoed foot after the other on the top rail. Where she had gotten those blond curls was a mystery. My own stick-straight, mousy brown hair came from the Ryan side. I ponytailed it daily, because there wasn't much else I could do with it.

While Frannie planted herself firmly on a fence post, I stared out across acres and acres of grass still green from summer but chewed to the very roots by the hungry herd inside the fence. The new calves at the gate were checking us out with the same curiosity we were showing to them. I set my mind on finding the calves with the most potential for steer stardom. I was looking for a steer calf that would take the Practical County Fair by storm.

The Practical County Fair. It was nothing short of the best week of the year in Practical County. Everyone in the community pretty much stopped whatever they were doing to come to the fair. It was where for one week you could do what you couldn't the whole rest of the year. Like eat elephant ears. Or sit inside the Grange tent sipping milk shakes and catching up with the neighbors. For some folks, the fair was a chance to show off their finest whatever. To pick that perfect rose and display it in a vase to see if it could earn the blue ribbon. Or wow the judges with a deep-dish apple crumb pie from Great-grandma's secret recipe. For a handful of others, it wasn't about competing but about coming to see it all. The exhibits, the animal shows, the annual Beef Princess pageant, and the neighbor folks who were usually too busy working to visit.

For my family, the Practical County Fair was all about beef.

Dad's family had raised some of the best beef in Indiana for generations. The Ryan family farm, dubbed Ryansmeade by Granddad's Irish parents, sat on four hundred acres located exactly fourteen and a half miles from Nowhere. Nowhere, Indiana. Population four thousand and not really growing much. Now, I've often wondered, Who on God's green earth names a town Nowhere? Because Nowhere is actually somewhere. It's the county seat of Practical County, and it's right smack-dab in the middle of the flattest fields of northern Indiana.

Dad was raised here, and so was Mom. And generations of their families before them. Granddad, Dad's dad, was my only living grandparent, and he lived in the old home place right beside the pasture and about a half mile from my house. The old home place looked like something from a folk-art painting. A square, white, plain-fronted, wooden-sided farmhouse with twin chimneys on each end. Except for new paint every four years and the electric lines that linked it to the poles along the road, that house probably looked just like it did when it was built a hundred years ago. It was old. And it was big for just Granddad, but he had been born there and he'd sworn time and time again that he would die there when the good Lord had a notion to take him.

Just then Granddad stepped out onto the small back porch, slipped his stocking feet into his black rubber boots, and joined us at the pasture gate.

"Good morning," he said to all of us, calves included. "You here to pick 'em out, Libby?"

"You bet I am."

"Are you sure about this, Lib?" Dad asked. He still had that hint of doubt in his voice. As if a girl couldn't possibly fill my older brother Ronnie's shoes. Well, maybe I couldn't yet handle those big, square hay bales like Ronnie could, but I was sure I could show a steer just as good, and, I hoped, better.

"I'm sure, Dad," I told him with no hint of doubt in my voice.

Looking out over the pasture as the September morning grew into a sweltering day, I knew I had an important task ahead of me. Two of these calves would be mine; I had to be sure we had at least one winner.

I had been to the Practical County Beef Show every year for as long as I could recall, watching and cheering for Ronnie in the show ring. There was so much to take in. The exhibitors as they maneuvered their enormous animals around the ring. The judges, deep in thought as they ranked each steer in their minds. The hush that fell over the crowd just before the champion was selected. I'd seen it all from the stands, and watching my big brother show steers was thrilling. But now that I was twelve, it was my turn. At next summer's fair, it would be me in the show ring. And I had big plans. Not only would I prove to Dad that I could show steers, but I would show the Grand Champion steer as well.

From the Hardcover edition.
Michelle Houts|Author Q&A

About Michelle Houts

Michelle Houts - The Beef Princess of Practical County
When Mr. and Mrs. Jim Darling named their first daughter Precious the whole town wanted to puke.” That line from The Beef Princess of Practical County came to me long before the rest of the story. I grew up in a word-loving environment. My father is the king of puns, spoonerisms, and wordplay. The idea of a character named Precious Darling was intriguing. Would she be precious? Or darling? Of course not. Life rarely works out that way. Precious Darling and her equally ironically named sisters stuck with me and begged me to write about them. (Of course they did. They’re that vain!) Other characters I write about have more realistic roots. Libby, the main character in the story, is a cross between several strong young people I’ve known over the years. Frannie, Libby’s little sister, is very much like a precocious and always-entertaining young lady who is growing up my house.

I’ve spent the second half my life-so-far on a farm. I grew up with farming relatives, but my family and I lived in the suburbs. I spent a lot of summer days visiting my cousin’s dairy farm, searching the haymow for new kittens and learning to walk barefooted in manure. I didn’t always love the farm animals. I used to have nightmares about huge Holstein cows walking up my driveway. When I went to college and met the farmer of my dreams, I knew I’d have to face my animal fears head on. Those big, old steers can still make me take a step backwards (away from their back end), but I’ve grown to respect them.

I’m always so impressed when I watch young people with their livestock at a county fair. The level of maturity, the amount of time and energy, and the physical nature of the work they do are amazing. (Not to mention, it’s just a dirty and sometimes stinky job to clean up after farm animals.) But there is nothing quite like auction night. The lights, the auctioneer’s booming song, the ringman’s yelping call to signal a bid, the pacing animals in the ring, and most of all, the youngsters at the other end of the lead rope. The emotions on their faces are as mixed as the feelings in their hearts. Pride. They’ve raised an outstanding, functional animal. Excitement. It’s the night they’ve worked for all year. Heartbreak. In minutes, it’ll be over. It will be time to say goodbye.

When I wrote about this in The Beef Princess of Practical County, my editor asked me what I suppose anyone who hasn’t experienced farm life would ask. Why? Why do the kids do it again and again if it’s such a painful life experience? That was my challenge in completing the book. How will Libby face the auction ring? Will she even face it at all? Writing is about living, and living is about growing and making decisions that ring true to your own beliefs. Libby may have faced some of the toughest decisions she ever had to make, but she always remained true to herself. Even in the presence of the dreaded, ditzy Darling sisters. And that’s no bull!

Author Q&A

Three Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Michelle: 
1.       She likes to hike, especially in places where there are hills, because it’s very flat where she lives.
2.       Michelle lived six months in Denmark and she knows a handful of Danish words. (Like “Jeg snak dansk.”)
3.       Michelle is restoring a one-room schoolhouse from 1894. She hopes it will be her writing space and that she’ll have a cat that she will name Miss Beadle.

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