“Here I am, Grandfather!” shouted Barbie as she jumped out of the parked car in front of her Grandfather’s farm. “What’s the big job you want me to do?”

When Grandfather had called last night, he said the sap was flowing, it was sugar time, and he needed Father’s help. But he told Barbie he had a special and very important job for her too.

“You’re just in time,” Grandfather said as he picked Barbie up and whirled her around.

“What do you want me to do?” Barbie asked eagerly.

“You’ll see,” answered Grandfather.

He hurried toward the barn. Soon he came out leading two large powerful horses. The horses pulled a sleigh with a big tank on it that Grandfather called a gathering rig.

“You’re going to ride on the rig,” Grandfather said as he gave Barbie a boost up behind the horses.

This is my job, thought Barbie. Grandfather needs me to drive the gathering rig.

Swinging tin pails, Grandfather and Father started walking down the narrow snow-covered road.

Before Barbie could say giddap, the horses tugged at their harnesses and the creaky sleigh slowly slid along the road. Down one hill and up another went the horses, their warm breath turning misty in the chilled air.

Soon they came to a grove of maple trees. Sunlight flickered through the bare branches down to shiny buckets hanging on the trees.

“Whoa!” commanded Barbie, but the horses kept moving.

Grandfather and Father stopped at a tree where two buckets were hanging. They emptied the buckets into their big pails and then went on to other trees to empty more buckets. When their gathering pails were full, they stood by the road and waited for the sleigh so they could pour the sap into the tank.

Barbie jumped down into the snow. “I thought my job was to steer the horses,” she said. “But they don’t pay any attention to me. They already know what to do.”

“Smart horses,” commented Grandfather with a smile.

“Then what is my special job?” asked Barbie.

“You’ll see,” Grandfather promised.

Barbie tagged along to the maple trees. She spotted a small tree with a small bucket. This must be what Grandfather meant, she thought. This bucket is just my size.

Barbie tried to lift the bucket, but it wouldn’t budge. She tried again, but it was too full and too heavy. So she sat down on a tree stump and listened to the sap drip-drop into the buckets while Grandfather and Father poured more sap into the gathering rig. I’mnot big enough to help them, Barbie thought.

“It’s full!” announced Grandfather. “Come, Barbie. We’re going to the sugar house.”

They all climbed on the sleigh. Without being told, the horses began to move down the slope to the sugar house.

“Hello, Ben,” Grandfather said to the man who was waiting for them there. “This is Barbie. She’s going to do that special job for us.”

Barbie was tingling with excitement as she watched Ben attach a hose to the tank to drain the sap into a huge wooden vat.

Holding her hand, Grandfather took Barbie into the sugar house. They entered a room filled with a cloud of steam and the odor of burning pine logs mingled with the smell of something sweet. Barbie could see long trays of sap bubbling and popping over the stoves.

“Here is Barbie, Henry,” said Grandfather to a thin man who was stirring the boiling sap. “Are you ready for her to do her job?”

“Almost,” answered Henry. He scooped a dipper full of hot liquid and lifted it. Tilting the dipper, he watched the ribbon of syrup return to the pan.

“Now!” he said.

“Now?” asked Barbie in surprise. “But where is Grandfather?”

“Out here, Barbie,” Grandfather called.

Barbie ran through the door and stopped. Grandfather was standing beside a tub heaped with snow. Father and Ben were there too. Henry brought a newly filled dipper to Grandfather, who poured it on the snow. The cooled syrup changed to thick candy.

Grandfather handed a tiny wooden paddle to Barbie.

“Your job,” said Grandfather, “is to be the official taster.”

Barbie carefully scooped up the maple sugar candy and slowly tasted it. Then in her most expert voice she announced, “It’s delicious!”

Grandfather nodded his head in approval.

“M-m-m-m,” Barbie said as she took another taste of the sweet surprise. Then she looked at Grandfather. “I’ll be glad to do this job for you every year,” she promised.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Nina Grover