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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.
Read an Excerpt
The soft pastels of yellow, pink, and magenta gently pushed upwards on the horizon. It would be daylight soon. Motionless, Tillie watched through the unshuttered window above her bed. In the distance she could just make out the darkened shape of a large, sprawling, two-story house and its steep-pitched roof. Beyond the house she could see another large structure, and beside it something long and built closer to the ground. It was the barn and stables. Tillie sighed and shifted her weight ever so slightly so as not to disturb her sister sleeping in the bed next to her. She pushed her face closer to the open window and breathed deeply. They had been clearing the cane fields for several weeks now, and the air was filled with the sweet, pungent scent of burnt raw sugar.
Tillie had been awake for what seemed like hours, listening to the night sounds, watching, and waiting. Maybe this was the wrong day. But it had always been the first Thursday in June, she argued with herself. Just then a flicker of light caught her attention, and she saw a car slowly move away from the big house. It turned from the driveway onto the blacktop road that ran between the cane fields and the pastures. Tillie could feel the excitement rising inside her. She had been right after all. It was today. Today the big girl would come home.
Tillie watched the car stop at the end of the blacktop road and then turn east onto the main highway toward Palm Beach. When she could no longer see its taillights, she quietly slipped off her bed. Tillie hadn’t pulled the covers down the night before so she wouldn’t have to waste time making her bed. Besides, it had been a warm night and very little breeze. It would have been too hot with covers. Mabe, her sister, had thought Tillie was playing a game, but she wouldn’t sleep on top of her covers. She always slept under a faded blue spread. It didn’t matter to Mabe how hot it was.
Tillie looked over at Mabe to make sure she was still asleep. She didn’t want to wake her before she normally got up or she would be cross. On the foot of Mabe’s bed was a ratty looking purple and green Easter basket. Its handle was positioned exactly perpendicular to the horizontal floorboards because that was the only way Mabe would go to sleep. In it was a pad of drawing paper, some charcoal pencils, and an assortment of broken crayons and colored chalk. Cardboard had been taped over the bottom and around the sides of the basket so nothing could fall out.
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.