________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 15 . . . . March 30, 2001

cover Piper.

Natale Ghent. Illustrated by Cindy Ghent.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2000.
176 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 1-55143-167-X.

Subject Headings:
Australian shepherd dog-Fiction.
Farm life-Canada-Fiction.

Grades 4 - 8 / Ages 9 - 13.

Review by Kristin Butcher.

*** /4


Spring arrived in the county with a flourish. The trees burst forth overnight, their waxen buds unfurling in verdant splendor. Lambs were born, wet and steaming, tails waggling eagerly as they nursed. Everywhere, the earth sang praises in new life, its hungry fingers pushing ceaselessly up, through shimmering sand and dark soil.

Wesley stood in the middle of a large green space, shepherd's crook in one hand, baseball cap pulled low over her eyes. She whistled, high and far. Piper was a tiny speck in the distance, driving a group of sheep down the field. The sheep moved back and forth in waves as though buffeted by the wind. The sun came out in bursts behind the clouds, fusing everything with a dazzling glare.

Piper, the first novel by Natale Ghent, tells the story of two misfits who find success despite the odds against them. As the story opens, 11-year-old Wesley is trying to adjust to a new life. Her father has been killed in a car accident, and she and her mother have had to leave their California home and move in with her mother's sister and her family on a farm in Prince Edward County, Ontario. Wesley is miserable. In the unfamiliar setting, she feels like an outcast, a situation her younger cousin, Cassel, does nothing to alleviate. The animosity between the two girls is obvious, and their constant fighting is painful for everyone.

      But all that changes when Holly, one of the Australian Shepherd dogs that Wesley's aunt breeds, has a litter of pups. One of the pups appears stillborn, but at Wesley's pleading, her aunt - against her better judgment - breathes life back into it. There is no place for a runt on a farm, she sternly tells her niece, but when Wesley begs her to give Piper a chance, her aunt gives in.

      And so the bond between girl and dog is forged. The remainder of the story is concerned with their struggle to survive and prove their worth. With the help of a neighbour, Wesley trains Piper to herd sheep, and, after a few false starts, the two go on to become county champions, beating out far more experienced herders and dogs. Wesley has earned the admiration of her cousin and peers, and even acquires a beau. But on the eve of the second day of a competition that could give Wesley and Piper the national title, disaster strikes. While feeding her chickens, Wesley is set upon by coyotes and a wild coydog, and Piper must risk her own life to save her.

      In this first effort, Natale Ghent has followed the writer's unwritten law and tackled a subject with which she is very familiar. As a result, her knowledge of all aspects of farm life, and particularly dogs, their breeding and training, makes the story come alive. In fact, the dedication implies there are many parallels between the story and Ghent's own life. She even includes Piper's pedigree at the end of the novel, as well an author's note on the Australian Shepherd breed.


Kristin Butcher is a former teacher who now lives in Victoria, B.C. and writes for children.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364