The small town of Wellington, Florida, has the distinction of playing host to some of the wealthiest people in the world as well as the most prestigious equestrian events. King Charles comes from England to watch polo on the fields where he once played as Prince. The United States Olympics Equestrian team trains and competes there with teams from other countries. In sharp contrast, just down the road, due west, are some of the largest sugarcane fields in the world.
The people who work these fields are for the most part poor. They come from many cultures and backgrounds, but they primarily come from Haiti, Jamaica, and the United States. This combination of horse owner and cane worker is an unusual dichotomy, and it is a blend of these things that makes up the world in which my story’s main character, Tillie, the 11-year-old daughter of a sugarcane field foreman, lives.
In The Airs of Tillie, Tillie Turpning lives in an imaginary world that is filled with beautiful horses, polite people, and luxurious homes. Her real world, however, includes living in a cane foreman’s small tenant house with her over-worked mother, an autistic sister, and a rebellious older brother who is searching for answers within a radical Muslim group. When Tillie is unexpectedly forced to assist in the difficult birth of a new foal, she proves that her determination and belief in herself will allow her to accomplish anything she sets out to do.
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Read an Excerpt
Matt struck hard at the cane stalk and continued moving down the row at a faster pace than normal. Meeting Abdullah had stirred up more questions. The fundamentals of the Muslim faith were good as far as he could tell. There was sahah, or daily prayer, ibadah, which was submission to Allah or God. Zalsah was paying 2.5 percent of his salary to a deserving fellow being—his parents called it tithing. There was fasting during the month of Ramadin or ninth month. And there was hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca. This was considered the biggest of all acts of worship. It was where Muslims from around the world were united into one international brotherhood. Mustafa talked a lot about the hajj. It was his hope to go some time in the next year. He had even suggested that Matt go with him—that is, if he decided to convert to Islam.
The prayer and worship and giving to others were all good things as far as Matt was concerned. He didn’t have much to give, but he wouldn’t mind sharing it. Abdullah had made a special point to single him out after the meeting, telling him that he had heard good things about him. That the “Brotherhood” needed good men like him. That was when Abdullah invited him to a special meeting they were having later in the week. Abdullah had actually called him a man. He had also told him that if he needed anything to let him know. “It is an honor,” Mustafa had told him later, “for Abdullah to take special notice.”
Matt felt good. He liked his new friends and he liked what he was learning about Islam. Abdullah was a leader. Matt noticed how much everyone looked up to him—respected him. That was what he wanted, too. Respect. But being the son of a cut foreman who worked in a cane field brought on more jokes than respect from the other workers.
Matt straightened up from his stooped position and wiped the sweat from his face. Behind him lay hundreds of long cane stalks neatly cut and piled in a row. The Brotherhood needs good men like you. He would attend the special meeting even if it did mean sneaking out of the house.
About the Author: Barbara Casey is the author of over two dozen award-winning novels and book-length works of nonfiction for both adults and young adults, and numerous articles, poems, and short stories. Several of her books have been optioned for major films and television series.
In addition to her own writing, Barbara is an editorial consultant and president of the Barbara Casey Agency. Established in 1995, she represents authors throughout the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and Japan.
In 2018 Barbara received the prestigious Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award and Top Professional Award for her extensive experience and notable accomplishments in the field of publishing and other areas.
Barbara lives on a mountain in Georgia with three cats who adopted her: Homer, a Southern coon cat; Reese, a black cat; and Earl Gray, a gray cat and Reese’s best friend.
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