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14:14 PB ELEMENT Blog Review: CONFLICT – Looking at The Taxing Case of the Cows by Iris Van Rynback and Pegi Deitz Shea

February 24, 2014

TaxingCaseofCowsCoverTitle: The Taxing Case of the Cows
Author: Iris Van Rynback & Pegi Deitz Shea
Illustrator: Emily Arnold McCully
Publisher: Clarion Books
Year: 2010
Words: 1224

Having been a social studies teacher for a number of years, this book attracted my interest.  The Smith sisters of Glastonbury, Connecticut, were revolutionaries of a local sort in the 1870’s, who eventually aided the national effort to bring women the right to vote.

Rynback and Shea have laid out the conflict Abby and Julie Smith endured, and include on center stage the cows that were incidental to their story.  By focusing on the cows as central components, indeed as secondary characters, the authors develop a continuous thread from beginning to end and avoid the sense that the various points of conflict are separated, but rather connected.

When town leaders in 1869 decided more tax money was needed, they chose to collect unfair shares from single female landowners only.  Of course these ‘feisty and independent’ sisters refused at first, which sets up the first conflict. Fearing they might lose their farm, they eventually pay for that tax year, but they began a public battle that would last for years.  Abby revives the 100-year-old protest that resonated from the American Revolution, “taxation without representation.”

Men ignored them. The next year the tax collector demanded full payment, even when men landowners were allowed to pay installments. They refused, and he took their seven cows instead.

A constant series of conflicts increase in intensity, from property seizure to auctions, to the townspeople helping the sisters, and the exasperated town leaders finding themselves berated in the newspapers. Always, the cows were in the center of the controversy.

On final appeal, the sisters won their case.  But the fire had been lit in their hearts for women’s rights, and they toured America, their lives spent striving for suffrage until Abby’s death in 1878.  In 1920 women obtained the right to vote.

Using the cows as a central strand throughout the book made the conflicts in this story personal and real.  The struggles which might be somewhat nebulous in meaning to a fifth grader (the book rates at a 5.3 reading level) are given meaning by the whole idea of these friendly animals suffering the conflicts along with the sisters.

What makes the conflicts in your stories personal, and relatable, to the reader?  I hope you can share in the comments.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. ceciliaaclark permalink
    February 24, 2014 5:32 am

    I think I need to make my conflicts more conflicted. Mine seem wishy washy beside the books I am seeing. My little character wants something but doesn’t actually do much to get it. I see now that I will need to work on that. Thank you for yet another wonderful review of another interesting story.

  2. February 24, 2014 3:24 pm

    Wow, I’d never heard of this piece of history (in fairness, I’m Canadian) but I’m definitely interested to check out the book. Conflict is such an important element in stories, thanks for pointing this book out.

  3. March 24, 2014 6:40 pm

    That sounds like an awesome book! Thanks for the discovery!

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