Wednesday, October 14, 2020

A Book Review: First Cousins at the Farm (Plus EXCLUSIVE interview with the author!)

     Hello, everyone! This week I'm excited to blog about the first in a fairly new book series that encourages readers to not take life for granted, and to enjoy the outdoors and their loved ones. I'm also thrilled to post an interview with the author, conducted via email. As always, a huge thank you to Mary Conley for being willing to answer all my questions.

    This is my sixth author interview. To look at all the other ones I've done (including two featuring Tara Grayce and Jen Calonita), click HERE.

Title: First Cousins at the Farm

Author: Mary Conley

Series: This is the first in an ongoing series about the cousins.

Targeted Age Range: 8-12

Synopsis: Nine first cousins, ages six through thirteen, go to their grandparent’s farm for the last two weeks before school starts. They have always been good friends and are excited to spend time together.
Allison, Erin and Molly’s dad suggests they take advantage of this time to learn about their grandparent’s lives and so the grandkids ask for a story each night at bedtime. Caleb and Katie’s dad warns them about not pulling any of their shenanigans while there.
They forget.
Two of the cousins have disabilities, and the others are compassionate and helpful to them.
The cousins immediately learn that Grandpa and Grandma plan on them helping and learning the duties of a farm. They all take turns doing the many chores such as milking the cow, and feeding and watering the animals. Grandpa teaches the boys how to hammer, and Grandma teaches the girls how to crochet and embroider. There is plenty of time to have fun, too.
While listening to one of Grandpa’s stories, the cousins are surprised to learn about the freedom he had growing up and wonder why they don’t have the same. Their grandparents decide to give it to them. The kids learn that along with freedom comes responsibility.

Language: Once Sophie says she "hates" a mean rooster, and Allison says she hates having diabetes. One of the cousins calls her brother a "showoff". The expression "For Pete's sake" is mentioned once.

Violence: Stealing and other "bad happenings in neighborhoods" are mentioned. A few of the cousins try hammering and hurt their thumbs, and in a story it's mentioned a boy has an accidental habit of stepping on nails in his bare feet. One cousin gets bucked off a horse. Some scenes involve the characters shooting, or mentioning shooting, animals.

Romance/Sexual Stuff: None

Spiritual Elements: Romans 8:28 is mentioned in a conversation about good attitudes.

Magic: The grandma in the story mentions finding magic in everyday things.

References: There are references to E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, American Girl and Bitty Baby dolls, different embroidery terms, Legos, Star Wars, Little House on the Prairie, Disney's Bambi, Pokémon cards, different farm terms and equipment, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, Erector Sets, Christmas, Halloween, and the Harry Potter books.

Other Issues: It's mentioned and demonstrated that many of the cousins can and have been naughty, including times where they have been bossy or mean to their parents or relatives. There is some rude humor and sarcasm.

Though not exactly an issue, one cousin has hip dysplasia, while another one deals with Type 1 Diabetes. If you don't know a lot about each condition, you may get a bit confused when it's mentioned.

Where To Buy: First Cousins at the Farm is available on Amazon, eBay, Kobo, and Indigo.

My Age Range: I think kids aged 8 and up would enjoy this book the most.

Read Aloud: This would be a good read aloud. One thing a large family or group of family and friends could do would be to "assign" each person a character (Grandma, Grandpa, or one of the first cousins) to read. That way when there are many different points of view in the story, the book could be passed around so everyone could try reading a part.

My Opinion: My family is connected to one of the friends of the author, so my dad decided to buy us a copy. It didn't hurt that I live in a big family (though not with eight other cousins) and at that time we lived on a large homestead.
    I enjoyed reading about all the adventures the cousins and their grandparents had over the summer. Like in The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found (as well as all the other Vanderbeeker books), the multiple perspectives of each of the cousins gave the story more depth and interest, instead of being confusing or unnecessary. Both Molly's mentioned adoption and Molly and Allison's shared health struggles also resonated with me, as I am also adopted and have family with Type 1 Diabetes. Most of all I liked how the book gave a healthy perspective on farming, acting like family, and growing up while also being a lot of fun to read. I think my favorite chapter was at the end because it showed how each first cousin had changed from this one, two-week trip, whether that was an internal change or a fun, new memory.
    I'd suggest this book for anyone who loves reading about farm life, who's looking for a read without any huge issues, or who wants to enjoy a relaxing, wonderful story.

Discussion Questions:

-After reading (or listening to) this book, do you agree with Grandma and Grandpa's opinions on independence and being outside? Why or why not?

-Which first cousin did you like the best? In your opinion, which first cousin changed the most after that summer?

-If you could meet any of the people in this book, which one would you want to meet? Why?

-What was your favorite story Grandma and Grandpa told in the book? Why?

-Out of all the adventures the first cousins had, which one would you want to be a part of? Why?

-Molly can't walk as well as some of her cousins, yet she never lets that part of her life get her down. What does that teach you about Molly? Are there any ways that you can be more like Molly when it comes to doing hard things?

From the Farm: An Interview with Mary Conley
September 30, 2020

What inspired you to write?

When I was in grade school, my favorite part of the day was when our teacher read to us after the lunch hour.  Never underestimate the value of that.  In high school, my English teacher encouraged me to write. 

What are some of your favorite books?

My first real love of reading books myself was when my mother brought home from our small town library the Little House On The Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  You can imagine my delight when a friend likened my book to that series.

You mentioned in the book that the characters are based on your grandchildren, but with a few differences only friends and family would notice.  What are some of these changes?

In real life, our nine grandchildren are strung out in age.  To make them closer to the same age and good playmates, I made Josh the oldest instead of Allison.  Then siblings Katie and Caleb became twins, and their sister, Molly, was adopted out to their cousin’s family.  It worked.  They didn’t seem to mind, but thought it all rather funny.

Is there a theme in the story that particularly resonates with you?

I hadn’t planned it, but a theme of being out in the great outdoors was appearing in my book quite naturally.  While writing the stories, I read that the youth of today are nature deficit.  That is so sad.  Our children had to be told to come in the house while many of the present youth have to be told to go outside to play.  I realized that the interesting things happening on our little farm were a perfect avenue to stress the importance of nature on our bodies and minds, and entice the young readers outside to play and explore.  Also, the grandma teaches them how to be observant and tells them to always have an adventure.

Do you have a favorite character?

I guess my favorite character would have to be Elliott because he is the youngest of the grandchildren and tries so hard to keep up with the others.

Do you have a favorite scene or chapter?

My favorite scene is when Elliott gets lost and later tells the others that they were doing nothin’ and he wasn’t good at it.  My husband, who always read each new part out loud and with enthusiasm, says his favorite is when Grandpa and Elliott go pick up the new puppy.

What age group did you write this book for?

Reading skills very so much with elementary students, but I believe third grade on up.  Our big surprise when marketing it was that older adults liked it.  They remembered going to their grandparents' farm for Sunday dinners when all the cousins were there, working on their grandparents' farm, or even growing up on a farm.

What do you want to accomplish as an author?

I was told by both parents and librarians that children’s books where the kids aren’t smart mouthed and sassy were needed.  I want to always have good family values and kindness taught naturally in my stories. 

What do you do other than write?  

I’m the grandma in the book so I love to garden and preserve the harvest.  I read, crochet some, play the piano, and teach myself Spanish. 

What advice would you give to other authors?

Write for the fun of writing.  The publishing isn’t so fun! 

    I hope you enjoyed reading about First Cousins on the Farm. I, personally, found the book delightful, and definitely want more people to check it out.

    What about you? Have you read First Cousins on the Farm or similar books like it? After reading this review, would you want to read it?

    Join me next week for yet another Week of Book Memes! The Week of Book Memes is a fairly new event I've started on this blog, as a way to interact more with the book blogging community. During the Week of Book Memes I post several times a week, posting Top Ten Tuesday lists, rambling about unreleased books, and answering Book Blogger Hop questions, to name a few things. (You can find all of the book memes I participated in last time HERE.)


  1. Ooh, this sounds interesting! I'll have to check it out :) Thanks for sharing this with us!

    1. It's definitely worth it! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Grandma Mary wrote the way she lives. She is talented, inquisitive & articulate with a vivid imagination. You captured the essence of her story. Let your imagination come alive. Her grandchildren are all amazing!

    1. It seems like you know her personally, and that's awesome! I love that her goal in writing is to write fun stories that celebrate family instead of being disrespectful or unappreciative of them.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  3. I love what you did with this review! It is sometimes very difficult to find books that can suit your ages 8+. They do want to read what the "big kids" read and it's not always appropriate.

    I think I must start using a system like this at the school's library. It might take forever, but will be worth it.

    Lovely review!

    1. Your comment made me super happy! I created a book blog like this just because of that issue, because often reviews don't give you the nitty-gritty when it comes to what content is in each book. I love libraries and am so glad I could inspire you. I also write reviews like this weekly (excluding the Week of Book Memes posts), so feel free to stop by and see what else I've reviewed!

      Thanks for reading and commenting.