HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Mountain Born
Author: Elizabeth Yates
Illustrator: Nora Spicer Unwin
Publisher: JourneyForth, republished 2005
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 9 – 12
Rating: ***** 5 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Yates, Elizabeth. Mountain Born (published in 1943 by Coward-McCann Inc.; republished in 1993 by Troll Associates, an imprint of Walker Publishing Company Inc.). Six year old Peter lives on a mountain with his farmer-shepherd father Andrew, mother Martha, their elderly hired hand Benj, and sheepdog Rollo. A little black lamb, presumed dead, is brought into the warm kitchen. Martha nurses it back to life, and Peter is given the animal as a “cosset” (pet). Naming it Biddy, the boy raises it to be the leader of the flock. Over the next five to six years, Peter becomes acquainted with tail cropping, wool shearing, sheep dipping, bad storms, staying out in the meadows all summer to watch the sheep, and even protecting the flock from wolves. What happens to Biddy when Peter is twelve? How will he react? What important lessons does he learn during all this time? For author Elizabeth Yates, the story of Peter and his little black cosset began in her early years of life on her father’s large farm.
Things such as prayer, attending church, and Bible reading are all important to Peter’s family. The plot is full of family values, godly attitudes, and just plain everyday life. As Peter grows, not only does he become a greater help to his family’s work, but also his character of warmth, compassion, and caring is revealed. Some children might wince at the description of tail docking, using fire-heated tongs, but there are good reasons for it. Parents might also want consider the sensitivity of their child’s heart, knowing that things like death are explored in the book, albeit very lightly. Several people called it a “coming of age” story, but since in today’s youth literature that often means “boy loses virginity,” I’d prefer to say that it’s a sweet, wholesome story for the whole family about a boy learning to be responsible for his own ewe and learning to tend his family’s flock of sheep that teaches some great historical and moral lessons. Wikipedia said, “Mountain Born is a children’s historical novel by Elizabeth Yates. Set in the sparsely populated Rocky Mountains during the 19th century.” Uh, no. It is set in New England, probably in the early twentieth century. The 1972 movie based on the book, broadcast on The Wonderful World of Disney, and starring Sam Austin as the shepherd boy, was shot in Telluride, CO.
One critic called it a “horrible book,” saying that ““the author drags out every scene,” and that the characters are “Underdeveloped, annoyingly perfect, and they have no life,” and concluding that it is “Not for people who want action, a little bit of romance, and who want to laugh.” Well, not every book can or should be a bang-bang, shoot-em-up adventure. The fact that it’s not doesn’t make it horrible. Now, I happen to like bang-bang, shoot-em-up adventures too, but I also enjoy nice, leisurely stories about a simpler time and way of life. Another, more sensible reviewer wrote, “Strong characterizations and a wealth of information about sheep raising provide mild interest to the modern reader.” Yates has written several other books that I have found wonderful, including The Next Fine Day, The Journeyman, Hue and Cry, Sarah Whitcher’s Story, and Amos Fortune, Free Man, which won the Newbery Medal in 1951. Mountain Born, which was a Newbery Honor recipient in 1944, is now being called Book 1 of 2 in the “Mountain Born Series.” To me, it’s easier to say that there is a sequel, A Place for Peter in which thirteen-year-old Peter gets a chance to earn his doubting father’s trust when he successfully handles the important task of tapping the sugar maples to make syrup for their mountain farm.