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Heart of a Shepherd by Rosanne Parry

May 16, 2010

I was pleasantly surprised by this children’s book and I am happy to add it to my reviews. It’s the story of the Aldersons, an Oregon ranching family consisting of grandparents, their son, and his five boys. The boys range in age from early 20’s to “Brother” who is 11. (Nicknamed Brother because his real name is Ignatious, and “there’s just no good way to shorten that.”)

They are a quirky, but lovable, family with their own sense of humor and family traditions. The grandmother is Catholic and Brother and his father are practicing Catholics. The grandfather is a Quaker, and the loving way the “Grands” handle their denominational differences is part of what makes the book charming and sweet. A core belief in God underlies the lives of Brother and his Grandparents as Brother’s father is called to active duty in Iraq, and the four older boys go off to boarding school, the military and college. The entire community is affected as many locals are from a long line of soldiers and many are members of the reserves being called to active duty.

Brother, his grandparents, and one hired hand will have to take care of the ranch. Brother is young to take on such responsibility, but his level head, common sense and love for the sheep are all factors in making him successful. Brother has always had a hard time with the death associated with raising animals. He seems to care too much, according to his brothers, but a wise ranch hand tells him he has a ‘shepherd’s heart’ and so he begins to understand that his ability to care is what makes him uniquely suited to his future.

The Grandparents are colorful characters. The grandmother was also in the reserves in her youth, and has a resourceful, independent personality which demands respect. She is loved and honored by the community.

Grandpa is a hard working, thoughtful and introspective gentleman who honors his Quaker roots by peacefully resisting war and mentoring younger men in the faith. He often gives wise advice and support to Brother as he wrestles with the issues of growing up.

Through a series of ranch difficulties Brother begins to find his own brand of leadership. He begins to understand  “the easy way isn’t always the right way” when his best friend’s parents return from the war wounded.  He struggles with understanding why his father feels compelled to fulfill his duty as a captain in the Reserves.

The story culminates with a dangerous lightning storm which starts a fire on the sheep’s summer pasture. Brother and his grandpa ride to help the herder bring the sheep to safety. They arrive to find the sheep are surrounded by fire. Grandpa knows what to do and instructs them to build a quick fire line and then start a back burn.

The sheep are saved, but the exertion causes the grandfather to have a heart attack. He and Brother are alone on the trail when he dies. He is able to speak to Brother and give him some final blessings as they pray together. Brother has a profound sense of God’s presence as Grandpa passes. A miraculous provision by God allows Brother to bring his grandfather’s body back down the mountain to his awaiting grandmother.

Through these events Brother finds his own path for the future and proves his ability to act courageously under difficult circumstances.

Flags:

Catholic and Quaker forms of traditions are touched on, such as mass and silent prayer.

There is a short scene when Brother’s older siblings come home and sit around the kitchen table sipping hot chocolate laced with whiskey. Brother holds his own and does not condone or join in. It’s a realistic picture, and the young men do not display any rude or drunken behavior.

The absence of Brother’s mother is briefly touched on. It is implied that she moved to Europe to pursue her own dreams and aspirations.  This is stated by a neighbor lady who seems to understand her decision. The family never comments on this fact, and we do not really know their feelings about it.

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