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October 31, 2004

Ernest's Special Christmas

by Laura T. Barnes,
Barnesyard Books

2004 Silver Ben Franklin Award Winner – Best Children’s Book Published by an Independent Press
Story Overview/Background


Who would have thought that the adoption of a little miniature donkey would lead to a monumental shift in my life.

Nine years ago my husband and I purchased a barn that had been converted into a home in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. We were soon made aware that the previous owner had a miniature donkey named Ernest, and, Chester, a draft horse, who lived downstairs on the first level of the barn. The woman who sold us our home was moving into a small residence and could no longer care for the animals. We agreed to let them stay.

The adoption of Ernest and Chester has lead to the adoption of numerous additional horses and donkeys over the years. Yes, they all live on the first level of the barn. Life is quite special hearing all of the unique noises that float up through the floor boards.

Although we now have many sweet animals, Ernest is special. At only 29”, he is much smaller than all of the other donkeys.

Like all of the titles in the series, Ernest’s Special Christmas is based on an actual event that took place at our farm. The book focuses on Ernest and his barnyard friends as they prepare to celebrate Christmas. They soon realized Chester, the draft horse, is missing. Determined Ernest takes off in the snow in search of his friend. He finds the big, white horse lying in the white snow. Ernest tries to help Chester up but soon discovers that the task is much too difficult for him alone. He struggles back to the barn to enlist his bigger friends for help. Even with the strength of his large barnyard friends, they are unable to help Chester. Slowly other smaller animals begin to help. To their joy they discover that with everyone, large and small, working together, they are able to rescue their dear friend. Through love and determination, Ernest and his friends discover that being together with loved ones is the most special Christmas gift of all.

The actual event that was the inspiration for the story is even more touching. The day before Christmas Eve, a neighbor had called me at work to alert us that Chester had been lying in the pasture for several hours and she was beginning to get concerned. I quickly returned home. Upon seeing Chester I knew he was in trouble and called both my husband and our local Vet. The three of us, plus several neighbors, struggled to get Chester to his feet but to no avail. Ernest, who had been standing beside Chester when I arrived, never left his side. He kept nudging Chester as we tried to pull him up.

Because it was close to Christmas, a variety of friends and neighbors stopped by to drop off Christmas gifts. They soon joined in the effort. Unfortunately, because we were in the middle of the pasture we did not have the ability to hoist Chester up in any way. After struggling for hours, the Vet soon explained that perhaps the kindest thing would be to put Chester down. I simply could not accept this. Someone suggested that we contact a neighbor, Mr. Copeland, who owned a front-end loader. I had never met Mr. Copeland but immediately called him and implored him to bring his front-end loader to assist us. Naturally, he thought I was crazy to ask such a strange request – especially on a cold, dark, December night. Never-the-less he came to help.

It took us hours to maneuver the sling under Chester’s large body. We then worked to secure it to the bucket of the front-end loader. Slowly we managed to raise Chester up. Much to our disappointment however, Chester immediately collapsed back to the ground when Mr. Copeland attempted to lower him into a standing position. Not to be deterred, everyone started to massage Chester’s legs which we determined had become numb after lying down for such a prolonged period of time. We must have spent a half-hour trying to get his circulation moving. Ernest never left Chester’s side during the entire ordeal.

Once again, Mr. Copeland raised the bucket of the front-end loader raising Chester right along with it. Very gently he lowered Chester until his hooves touched the ground. He wobbled a bit but then managed to stand on his own. A huge cheer rang out from our little group of helpers. Mr. Copeland jumped to a standing position with his arms raised cheering louder than all of us. Ernest was so excited he kept trotting in little circles around his friend Chester. There was not a dry eye in the pasture that night. It was our little Christmas miracle. We had all worked together on that freezing December night to save our large, gentle giant Chester. It was without a doubt the best Christmas gift of all and an inspiration for a very special edition in the Ernest Series.

Posted by Guest Contributor at October 31, 2004 03:25 PM