Society of Children’s Book Writers/Judy Blume Children’s Novel Manuscript

Kentucky Talking Books


The Bulletin for the Center of Children’s Books, December 1990: “…the characterization is strong and believable–Kate and her friends are aware of their hard-working
parents’ struggles and successes. It is refreshing for fictional teenagers
to be goal-oriented and sometimes serious, instead of superficially suburban.”

School Library Journal, November 1990: “Here is a sense of contemporary farm life, its difficulties and rewards, that is uncommon for current children’s literature.”

Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1990: “Authentic details and rich descriptions.”

Booklist, September 1990:
“This isn’t a simple book with a happy ending; it’s a considered, very real picture of a complicated, demanding life.” © 1990 American Library Association

Kirkus starred review, August 15, 1990:
A moving, expertly woven story in which Kate, 13, learns that she has what it takes to be a Kentucky farmer.

The drought was bad, but after dogs kill many of their sheep the following spring, the Chiddens face hard times. Kate wonders whether they will still own the farm when she’s grown, and whether she has the stomach for such unpleasant tasks as salvaging wool from days-dead sheep. While watching neighbors struggle and fail, she also sees tension mounting in her own family as her proud father resentfully accepts the necessity of her mother going to work in town.

Stiles evokes–with equal skill–the excitement of a horse auction, the poignancy of a farm sale, the joy of lambing, and the complex dynamics of a decent, stressed family. Her animal husbandry scenes are as vivid and dramatic as Herriot’s; with deeply felt sympathy she makes clear how farmers (and even bankers) are caught between a rock and a hard place in a depressed rural economy. Kate’s strength, ability to face challenges, and (beneath a layer of self-doubt) the sense of worth derived from her capable parents are admirable. The novel concludes on a realistic note: through ingenuity and unrelenting work, the Chiddens make their mortgage payment– that year. A sensitive, honest picture of a threatened way of life.
© 1990, Kirkus Associates, LP All rights reserved

Farm Journal, December 1991: Top honors for realism and fine writing go to Martha Bennett Stiles for Kate of Still Waters (Macmillan). The 13-year-old Kate of the title is a courageous and complex girl learning to be tough enough to become a farmer like her father. Set in modern-day Kentucky, the writer’s vivid details of animal husbandry, farming and 4-H shows are right on target, but it is Kate’s attitudes and reactions that really shine.

“Helping at lambing time gives me a feeling I don’t think my town classmates ever get…. Lawn mowing and vacuum cleaning aren’t like taking a tiny newborn creature up in your arms and guiding it to its mother for its first drink.”

Kate’s challenges come in the form of drought and down prices. “I get a safe feeling every summer when I see the winter hay stacked high under shelter. Even last summer, knowing we’d paid for them with borrowed money, seeing those rows of meadow-smelling bales made my shoulder blades relax.”

Finally, the family struggles to make the mortgage payments, and Mom seeks work off the farm. But the author avoids “save the farm” sensationalism and quick fixes and lets her characters learn and grow. Pam Henderson
Reprinted by permission of Farm Journal; © 1991, Farm Journal

Kentucky Living, February 1991: A new piece of literature set in Kentucky is most welcome, because there aren’t many. One of the caliber of Kate of Still Waters, by Martha Bennett Stiles, is especially appreciated, because it combines several fine stories to form a sensitive novel for an adolescent girl. Most books aimed at this age group don’t have the depth of this fine work.

The author carefully explores the feelings of a 13-year-old girl as she helps us understand the life of a farm family in the Bluegrass today. There are many rewards, such as picking and cooling the first watermelon of the year, or having the space to run and enjoy the sweet outdoors on a larger scale than the confines of a back yard. This life does not come without risks, as any farmer knows. We learn how serious these risks are when nature turns against the family by sending them drought when they need rain, and a pack of dogs to attack the sheep the family counts on selling to raise needed cash.

The story contains frequent references to landmarks familiar to most Kentuckians. Best of all, though, for the young reader, are the little lessons in living that Ms. Stiles cleverly weaves into her enchanting and thought-provoking novel. Nancy Anderson

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 9, 1990: I heard a distinguished author say he had learned more about writing from Martha Bennett Stiles than from anyone else–from reading her books. I wish I could say the same, but I was so totally engrossed in Kate of Still Waters (on first reading, at least) that I was oblivious to the techniques involved. I had to rerun the story in my mind and reread important passages. Not until then could I see the faint shadow of the author’s hand behind the scenes. Of course that’s what marks a master writer of fiction–the ability to fade into the background so the characters themselves can grasp the reader and draw him into their world.

The Kate of the title is a marvelously complex and appealing girl who wonders if she can be tough enough to become a sheep farmer like her father. She watches the effects of drought and low income on the relationships within her family . She overhears her parents’s concerns about making the mortgage payments, and she worries they may lose their farm.

She re-evaluates her mother and father, time and again, as her anger and understanding ebb and flow. And bit by bit, she matures to a point of greater tolerance–even toward a neighbor boy who wipes his nose on the back of his hand and calls her names. But most of all she learns that she is capable of meeting challenges that once overwhelmed her.

Many of Kate’s challenges are specifically related to farming–involving animal care, marauding dogs and drought–but a book as rich as this touches on far more. Kate’s 13-year-old attitudes and reactions will resonate with many a young reader.

Even though the author is so skilled that her techniques are almost invisible, her wisdom and experience are fully evident–shining through the thoughts of her characters and giving substance to their world.

Stiles’s Darkness Over the Land was an American Library Association Notable Book. Kate of Still Waters should garner its own honors and appeal to a broad audience as well.

  • Arielle North© 1990 St. Louis Post Dispatch