Saturday, May 23, 2009

Heart of a Shepherd - a touching story about a boy whose father is sent to Iraq

As we celebrate Memorial Day, I'd like to take a moment to think about the families who have sent fathers, sons and brothers to fight in war. The Heart of a Shepherd, by Rosanne Parry, tells the story of an twelve-year old boy whose father is sent to fight in Iraq with the rest of his reserve unit. I was very moved by this story, especially because it shared with me a perspective that is so far away from my experiences here in Oakland, and yet such an important part of our American experiences in the early 21st century.
Heart of a Shepherd
by Rosanne Parry
NY: Random House, 2009. 161 pages
also available on audiobook from or iTunes
ages 10 - 12
Twelve-year old "Brother" is the youngest of 5 boys growing up on a ranch in Eastern Oregon. His older brothers are now off at boarding school, college or the army, and he's now alone helping his dad and grandparents manage their cattle ranch. Brother feels that he's never been the rancher that his older brothers are - it's difficult trying to fill their shoes when they're away. But his dad and grandpa help him learn how to do things.

Then, Brother's dad is called up to fight with his reserve unit in Iraq. With all of his brothers away, Brother promises his dad that he will help keep the ranch running smoothly. His dad believes in him, and Brother has to keep faith that his father will return safely. Here is one of my favorite quotes from his dad:
“You don’t have to be brave,” he says, real quiet. “Neither of us does. A man’s life is not so much about courage. You just have to keep going. You have to do what you’ve promised, brave or not.” (page 24)
In many ways, The Heart of a Shepherd reminds me of A River Runs Through It for tweens. The setting is inextricably part of the story - the land, the weather, the power it holds for people living on a ranch. Brother struggles with his relationship with his older brothers, trying to prove himself a man. And Brother tries to come to terms with his faith, both his faith as a Catholic and his grandfather's faith as a Quaker.

Kids who like real stories about real people will like this book. I think it will appeal to girls and boys, most likely in 5th or 6th grade. The audiobooks has gotten great reviews - it would make a great story for a car trip this summer. It's availabe for download through iTunes or

Our local libraries don't have it yet, but you can see a preview of much of the book at Google Books. It's also available through IndieBound independent bookstores and Amazon.

Read some other reviews of this book:
Jen Robinson's Book Page

I agree with Jen Robinson - above all, this is a book you want to share with others. It shares a perspective about growing up, about loss, about faith that can stretch us and resonate at the same time. Enjoy!