By Holly Packiam
I was born in rural Iowa and spent many years growing up on a family farm, home to my parents, my sister, me, and a host of animal friends-- a dog named Spot, wild and free barn cats, (truly) free-range chickens, and a herd of Red Angus cattle. Although my surroundings were the Midwestern plains and not the Dales of England, I find myself at home in James Herriot’s stories about rural life in England. Herriot was a country veterinarian who lived through many quotidian days, but he remembered a myriad of moments where particular stories stayed in his memory for years to come. His stories are a feast set before us with rich language and descriptive images. Readers also receive the gift of learning about the geographical landscape of England and English farm life. Herriot’s most popular stories are included in a collection, James Herriot’s Treasury for Children which includes eight stories. I’m highlighting four of my favorites in this list!
Moses the Kitten
Of all Herriot’s stories, this might be my favorite! We find Herriot driving on a chilly day to a neighboring farm in his heaterless car. As he comes to the farm’s entrance, he notices a nearly lifeless black kitten along the roadside. Upon arriving at the farm, Herriot handed it over to the farmer’s wife. She brought the kitten back to life with the help of a kitchen fireside oven. (I wish I had one of these.) Noting his toughness and recalling his discovery among the rushes, the farmer’s wife decided to name him Moses. Ignoring his own mik bowl, Moses quickly adapted to farm life by settling in with Bertha, a sow, who had just had a litter of piglets. Moses quickly got comfortable in the pig pen, and snuggled right in with piglets to nurse. It was quite the sight! Herriot and the farmer and never seen anything like it! Even after the piglets were weaned, Moses spent most of his time with Bertha and never strayed far from ‘his first warm home.’
Only One Woof
This charming and humorous book is well-loved among the Packiam children! Peter Barrett’s wonderful illustrations draw you in from the start. At the Wilkin farm, two sheepdog puppies, Gyp and Sweep, were going to be trained someday for the sheepdog trials. As the puppies grew, Mr. Wilkin made an interesting observation about Gyp. He never barked at all. He was completely silent. The brothers were soon separated when Sweep was sold to a sheepdog trainer. Over a year later, the two brothers found themselves at the same dog racing trial, Sweep as a competitor and Gyp as an audience member. Near the end of the trial, Sweep accomplished the final task given by Mr. Wilkin. A ‘single loud bark’ came from Gyp. The Wilkin’s were astounded to hear a woof come from their dog whom had never made a single noise before. Gyp didn’t seem to notice he had done anything unusual and went on to play around with his brother as they once did. Herriot learned that Gyp never made a sound after that day. “Poor old lad, eight years and only one woof.”
The Christmas Day Kitten
This heartfelt story is making it’s way onto our Christmas reading list. “Christmas can never go by without my remembering a certain little cat.” says Herriot. The British veterinarian comes one day to check on one of Mrs. Pickering’s bassett hounds. During his visit, he meets a stray cat, Debbie. Never staying long, the cat ventures in and out of her home. One day, the cat came in carrying a fragile kitten in her mouth. “Isn’t it strange-- Debbie knew she was dying so she brought her kitten here. And on Christmas Day.” In this sweet story, Mrs. Pickering finds a place in her heart for a cat she named Buster, whom she never knew she needed or wanted. It’s also a story about Buster becoming a ‘retriever-cat’ fitting right in with her three bassett hounds. Mrs. Pickering often recalled the day Buster was born, “The best Christmas present I’ve ever had.”
Smudge the Little Lost Lamb
This endearing story reminds me of Jesus’s parable of the lost lamb. We can all relate to the lamb who finds himself lost and longs to be home. Harry receives the gift of an adorable lamb named Smudge, who lives in Farmer Cobb's farmyard. Smudge longed to see the world outside Farmer Cobb's fence, and finds himself on a grand adventure. He gazes upon cattle, Dale ponies, and even ancient castle ruins. He has so much fun! After an hour, Smudge sees his mother and sister on the other side of the fence-- and he can’t find a way back in. Smudge’s journey to find his way is home is just beginning, and I won’t give away the ending!
If you are interested in hearing more about James Herriot and his stories, sign up for the Cultivating Life with Sally membership site. In 2018, we’ll be recording a podcast on James Herriot as part of the Storyformed Bonus content.
I’ve named a few of my favorite James Herriot stories. What is your favorite?