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Shoebox Funeral

August 11, 2017

Recently I got an email from Animal Media Group, the publishers of a book entitled Shoebox Funeral: Stories from Wolf Creek, by Elisabeth Voltz. They offered to send me a copy and I agreed, since I am interested in all kinds of stories about animals. When the book arrived I was charmed, as it’s a lovely little volume, hardback, with color illustrations at the beginning of each chapter and an attached ribbon bookmark.

The writing did not charm me as much, however. There’s a lot of telling without showing:
“Despite my fears, I found the farm magical, a sanctuary, a place no one else could fully comprehend and that outsiders rarely entered. Butterflies surrounded us, drunk off my mother’s acres of beautiful flowers. Every night lightning bugs floated gracefully through the fields like fairies. Matching black-and-white-spotted bunnies and mice littered the landscape, as though the line between domesticated pets and woodland creatures had blurred. Cities of birds communed at the feeders, their songs thankful and like music.”
We’re told that the flowers were “beautiful” but not what kind of flowers they might have been or what color(s) they were. We don’t know how graceful this author believes fairies to be. We have no idea what sounds “thankful” to the author. In order to make the reader feel the “magic” she wants to convey, the author needs to describe the elements that give her that feeling of magic rather than just mentioning them or summing them up.

I think there are people for whom this kind of general description could work—an older person, perhaps, whose memories of childhood farming days could be sparked by Voltz’s reminiscences. Like this memory, slightly more specific in its detail: “I knew it was a good day when I was really dirty. Dust from the hayloft, clay and mud from the creek, soil from the gardens. Grease from bikes and machinery. Green-stained feet from the grass, and rough hands from the dirt, and of course sweat from hard work and play.”

Young Elisabeth cared for many cats and kittens during her time at Wolf Creek because people would abandon them nearby. She says that “many of the drop-offs that reported to our front door were left there because they had health problems. Blind, deaf, diseased, pregnant—all won a ticket to the farm.” I wish that wasn’t still true, but it does continue to happen in the more rural areas around here.

At the end of the book, there are color photos of the farm, the author’s family, and a few of the many animals she cared for and describes. It really is a beautifully presented little volume.

Do you know someone who would enjoy taking a trip down memory lane by reading about how animals were cared for on a farm in the olden days? If so, I’d love to send you this book. Let me know you’d like to have it in the comments (if more than one person would like it, I’ll do a random drawing by comment number).

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