Reviewed by Timothy Niedermann
Locket’s Meadow is an animal rescue farm in Bethany Connecticut. It is a real place, filled with all sorts of animals—horses, pigs, sheep, goats, and birds, as well as dogs and cats. And a mischievous human ghost. Run by Kathleen Schurman and her husband, Locket’s Meadow is in the business of saving sick and abused creatures and ones that, having outlived their usefulness in one way or another, would otherwise be destroyed. She tends not just their physical wounds but their emotional scars as well and tries to find good homes for them. This takes time, and at the moment there are over one hundred non-human individuals living in the two barns on Schurman’s property (and some in her house).
Locket’s Meadow is named for a Jerusalem donkey, Locket, who was born in the wild and rescued from culling in Death Valley, California. Schurman is also a writer, a long-time newspaper columnist, and several years ago, began telling the stories of the animals on her farm in the form of children’s books. She likes to say that she just listens to what the animals tell her and writes it down. There has been a lot to tell. A mixture of imagination and truth, the books are inhabited by a wide variety of vivid and often delightfully eccentric characters.
Ozzie’s Promise, the latest in the series, is no exception. It is the story of Ozzie Osboar, the sickly runt of a litter of pigs whose owner, seeing no hope for Ozzie’s survival, gives him to Schurman because there is something special about this pig, and he doesn’t want to see it die. And Ozzie thrives. His real-life story is interspersed with another fictional drama on the farm. Bonnie, the farm’s stable hand, is secretly abusing one of the horses, Falstaff. Falstaff is too proud to say anything, but a family of crows, lively personalities all, discover the foul deeds and try to find a way to tell Schurman. But how? The three youngest crows hit upon a way: they will simply learn to talk human! As if to underscore that the characters are based on real animals, Schurman has illustrated the book with photographs, which serves to blur the line between reality and fiction all the more.
Everything come to a head when Schurman has to take Ozzie to the Tufts Veterinary Hospital in Massachusetts for treatment, and Bonnie decides she will take Falstaff to the slaughterhouse with the cover story that he has run away. The whole farm rises up in a delightful mixture of comedy and rebellion.
This is a children’s book, of course, yet it is very well written and thus engaging for any reader. Schurman’s skill is bringing out the animals’ personalities convincingly, but as the animals they are, not as merely furry or feathered humans. Yes, there are (unintentional) echoes of E.B. White, but the tone is perhaps less literary, and more relevant to today’s world. Given the latest research on the depth and complexities of animal intelligence, these books offer children lessons in respect and empathy for our fellow inhabitants of this planet that is sorely needed.
Ozzie’s Promise is published by Classy Pony Press.