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'Tis a Gift focuses on Betsy's younger brother Tad.


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Ten-year-old Tad Johnson is a shy, sensitive boy who just doesn’t fit into Shaker life in the 1830s. He’s lived the Shaker Village for two years but hasn’t yet managed to master the farm chores of planting and harvesting the crops or taking care of the livestock. Everything, from milking cows to baling hay, ends in disaster.

Tad gets too distracted by the music of the wind through the grasses. He dreams up dances from watching a bumblebee communicate with its hive. Tad captures these feelings and images in a journal that he takes everywhere with him. No one, not even his big sister, Betsy, is allowed to read his journal. It’s for his eyes only.

It seems to Tad that everyone has a gift to contribute to village life, everyone but him. Betsy’s made new friends and her gift of healing is nurtured by the communal society of 500 Shakers.

Tad misses his dead parents and longs for the security of their lost eastern Kentucky home. Since the Shakers keep boys and girls separate, Tad doesn’t even have Betsy to confide in.

The other boys tease him unmercifully—especially the biggest bully, Fred. Their pranks turn dangerous when a raging bull charges into the pasture where Tad is daydreaming. He escapes with minor injuries, but the mystery remains as to who set the bull loose on Tad.

Tad’s best times are when he’s woodworking with Michael, his music-minded uncle. Michael encourages Tad to compose his own tunes and steps for the Shaker worship dances. He tries to convince Tad that a community needs all kinds of gifts—physical and artistic—to grow. The lesson is quickly dashed when Fred snatches and ruins Tad’s treasured journal during a fight. Feeling helpless and defeated, Tad runs away into a threatening thunderstorm.

Tad follows the Kentucky River which is about to flood from the driving rain. He is wet, cold, lost, alone. When Betsy tracks Tad into the storm, she becomes trapped under a falling tree. Not strong enough to lift the huge limb off of her, Tad must find a way to save his sister, while fending off Fred, lapping floodwaters and a frightened wolf.

Safely back at Shaker Village, Tad must cope with his biggest challenge yet. Just when he was beginning to gain some confidence, he learns devastating news about his legs. It will take courage of another sort altogether to face his physical limits, discover his unique gift and find the place just right for him.

Tad, Betsy and their friends' adventures continue through three books.

Road to Pleasant Hill, the first book in the series, mostly focuses on Tad's older sister Betsy. It's set two years earlier than ‘Tis a Gift, and explains the challenges the Johnson children faced when they moved to the Shaker Village after the disappearance of their father and death of their mother. It offers glimpses of Shaker life in the 1830s as it follows Betsy through her adjustment to this new way of life, a new set of friends, and her eventual self-discovery of her gift for healing using plants and herbs.

The third book in the series, Tree of Life, spotlights Betsy's friend Grace, a spunky, artistic, and clever girl who wants to weave her own future beyond the stone fences of Shaker Village. Alas, her silken dreams become tied up in all kinds of knots – for Grace and for the whole village.

All three books are in the Think Young collection from MotesBooks and are available in bookstores, libraries, and online from

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