Picture Book Round-Up: Down on the Farm

h1 October 3rd, 2007 by jules

Do you know how. very. long I’ve been sitting on this post? Oh my, perhaps months now. We’ve been busy here at 7-Imp. Better late than never, though. And there are oh-so, EVER-SO many more picture books I want to talk about (who can add about five more hours to my day? Anyone? Anyone? Email me pronto!), but let’s take it one day at a time, shall we? Onwards then . . .

Barn Dance!
by Pat Hutchins
April 2007
(library copy)

The grown-up Horse, Sheep, and Pig want to dance the night away — some bouncing, some jigging, some leaping — while their young ‘uns sleep . . . or so they think. Those wee ones are, indeed, watching all the cavorting from their hay beds. Who can sleep on such a gorgeous night anyway? But eventually the adults hang it up to hit the hay, so to speak, since nothing seems to go as planned: Horse is such a dancin’ fool that she sets the straw on fire; Sheep jumps and leaps so high that she gets stuck on a beam high above; and Pig jigs so hard that she falls down. After they fall asleep, the young ones head out to dance by the light of the moon and stay until the sun rises in the sky. Hutchins’ sparkly, bright gouache illustrations are eye-catching, especially with her dark, beautiful night-time palette, brightened with those splashes of cheery pinks and crimsons which you see on the cover there. The Horn Book review called this one “a pleasant romp, a natural for dramatic play.” It is, indeed. And what I really love is that depiction of the parents’ urges to get out already and live it up a little while the children sleep — as well as the latter’s awareness of it and secret joy in watching it all unfold. A good story-time read-aloud choice. And I’ll line up for a Pat Hutchins title any day.

Hurry! Hurry!
by Eve Bunting
Illustrated by
Jeff Mack
March 2007
(library copy)

This is a preschooler’s — even a toddler’s — delight. It just spills over with joy (and also happens to be a lovely new-baby gift). The text is a spare, staccato series of commands or questions, as shouted by various farm animals, heading to an unknown destination. “Hurry! Hurry” yells the fowl on the first spread, while the goat watches. “Coming! Coming” is his response on the next. “Ready? Ready?” asks the mother duck to her wee ones. “Yes! Yes!” they exclaim, as the next spread shows us their exuberant leap from the water. Eventually, as things come full circle with another “Hurry! Hurry!” from the same hen who opened the tale and who succeeded in getting the word spread all over the farm, the animals gather in a barn to witness the miracle of life: This animal’s little one is about to break open from its egg, with papa sitting there next to him, proudly. In a spread of unbridled cheer with the newest member of the farm community leaping forth in a lovely ray of light, the wee chicken announces, “I’m here! I’m here!” and is then welcomed by the farm yard gang. Encircling him on the final page, his proud parents lean forward to whisper, “Hello, little one.” Jeff Mack’s acrylics burst forth with color and are full of momentum and movement and joy as he brings this excited barn yard to life. A perfect read-aloud for the very young.

Lucky Jake
by Sharon Hart Addy
Illustrated by Wade Zahares
Houghton Mifflin
May 2007
(library copy)

This might be a bit of stretch for a barn-yard-themed post, but I can manage to make it work. Plus, no matter where you read about this book, you don’t want to miss it this year, particularly for Zahares’ gorgeous pastels. This one is about a young boy named Jake; he and his Pa are mining for gold. After finally scoring a gold nugget, Jake is able to get a pet. Since there are no dogs nearby, he manages to find a “runty pig” and names him . . . what else? “Dog”! When Dog finds a corn kernel in Pa’s pocket — from his former farming days — Jakes plants and nurtures it, though Pa doesn’t think it will grow. A goat then enters the picture, becoming a milk source, and — after cooking up some corn fritters — Jake and Pa attract other prospectors, hungry for some food. Before they know it, they’re running a restaurant and trading goods aplenty. The repeated refrain here, all along, is Pa telling Jake, “that sure was lucky,” and Jake replying, “Yup. Lucky,” though young children putting their inferencing skills to work will see that their good fortune is the result of some quick-thinking and ingenuity on their parts. Zahares illustrations are very stylized, steeped in shadow and with what Publishers Weekly aptly called “electric hues.” Also worth seeing for the obvious fun Zahares has with perspective. One of the most beautifully-illustrated books I’ve seen this year.

A Family for Old Mill Farm
by Shutta Crum
Illustrated by Niki Daly
Clarion Books
May 2007
(library copy)

On alternating spreads of this picture book, written in rhythmic verse, a real estate agent, in the form of a raccoon, is showing his animal clients — some finches and foxes, some deer and ducks — the woods, fields, and pond of Old Mill Farm. At the same time, a human realtor is trying to find a suitable house for a human family. Briarwood Cabin? A cottage? Mobile home on the prairie? Rocky Point Lighthouse? None of these seems a good fit for the family of three (soon to be four), and finally the tired realtor suggests one last possibility — a fixer-upper property called . . . you guessed it: Old Mill Farm. “Perfect!” they say . . . I like Daly’s line-and-watercolor art work; his work always exudes a very distinct charm to me, and he doesn’t disappoint here with his breezy, detailed watercolors. And it’s fun to compare and contrast the two realtors’ differing spins on the same property, as the Kirkus review pointed out. A good choice for either a group read-aloud or some one-on-one lap time with your favorite wee child, especially one who is thrilled — it probably goes without saying — about an upcoming move.

The Perfect Nest
by Catherine Friend
Illustrated by John Manders
February 2007
(library copy)

Here’s part of what I wrote about this book previously in my Best Books of 2007 (Thus Far) post, calling this the Flat-Out Funniest Yet Most Under-Rated Picture Book of 2007 Thus Far:

” . . . ¡caramba! and sacré bleu! and great balls of fire! but this book is funny (it’s single-handedly responsible for my 3.5 year-old running around screaming ‘Great balls of fire!’ repeatedly, too). And School Library Journal and I agree; they call it ‘laugh-out-loud funny’ in their starred review . . .”

Jack the cat has built the perfect nest. He’s hungry, you see, and wants to attract the perfect chicken who will lay the perfect egg for a perfect omelette. And a chicken shows up, but so does a duck and a goose. There’s plenty of bickering over the nest, but Jack still just wants that one perfect egg. After finally getting them to high-tail it over to the farm next door, he gets an egg all right, but also another egg and another one after that. And, suddenly, he finds himself insta-dad to three wee ones who just need some love and attention. It’s both the details (the fan, the welcome mat, and the strung holiday lights over Jack’s jerry-built nest) and the broad humor (the “¡caramba!”s of the chicken, the “sacré bleu!”s of the duck, and the “great balls of fire!”s of the goose) that make this one a winner and a gut-buster. The colorful cartoon illustrations are a perfect match for the screwball humor in the story, and Manders knows how to bring it home in the end with a nice dose of tenderness as Jack does, indeed, find the most perfect nest of all. Quite possibly the best read-aloud this year, especially if you can hoot and holler “Great balls of fire, Ma!” with the best of ’em.

Cock-a-Doodle Quack Quack!
by Ivor Baddiel and Sophie Jubb
Illustrated by Ailie Busby
David Fickling Books
April 2007
(library copy)

Baby rooster knows he has to wake up everyone at the farm; the problem is that he’s not sure how to go about doing so. Asking the other animals on the farm what they have to say, he quickly discovers that a rousing “cock-a-doodle-oink-oink!” here, a “cock-a-doodle-moo-moo!” here, and a “cock-a-doodle-quack-quack!” there aren’t going to take him very far. The cat sends him to owl: “He’ll know what to do.” And here’s the great charm of this book: Owl tells him, “My friend, tomorrow, as the sun is rising, go down to the farm gate and sit there quietly. Don’t say anything. Just listen. Then you will know exactly what to do.” Baby Rooster is puzzled, but he does what Owl says. He listens and hears a noise coming from the farm next door, early the next morning. After a few failed attempts (“cock-a-poodle-poo!” will get the wee-est ones giggling a lot), he “listened as carefully and as quietly as he could.” And, voila! He gets it right. This is me being Grumpy Old Man again (part 2000 in a series, I suppose), but isn’t that Zen-like, just-hush-up-and-listen-already subject matter so fabulous in the busy, crazy, loud, people-walking-around-with-those-weird-cell-phones-hanging-off-their-ears-that-make-them-look-like-robots world we live in. I love it. And the cheery, bright acrylic illustrations had to grow on me, but . . . well, grow they did. Just look at those round, comforting shapes on the cover up there. Preschoolers will be drawn to it — and mostly because, as Publishers Weekly put it, the book “seems populated wholly by stuffed animals (even the landscape has a cuddly, plush-toy look).” Add to the book’s charm the fact that preschoolers often struggle (and struggle and struggle again) to nail tasks, just as Baby Rooster has to do. A sure-fire preschooler hit. Funny and smart and refreshing. Just sit and listen: Ahhhhhh.

Tractor Day
by Candice F. Ransom
Illustrated by Laura J. Bryant
Walker & Company
February 2007
(copy from author)

This was a lovely surprise to get in my mail box, a sweet story of family and the thrill of a tractor ride on a farm, all very reminiscent of an earlier time (Grumpy Old Man just reared his head again. “That’s the way it was, and we liked it!”) — perhaps even “highly romanticized,” as Booklist put it. Told in a simple rhyme, composed of short sentences (which would work well for your beginning reader) — “Black birds perch,/ dance on gate./ Hello, crows./ Don’t be late./ Tractor naps. Time to plow. / Cover off./ Wake up now!” — it tells the story of a young girl’s excitement over joining her father on a tractor ride for most of the day. I mean, what could be cooler when you’re a child? Vroom. Vroom, indeed. Bryant’s illustrations show a loving family, busy on their land: Mama’s with the girl’s young, wee sibling, busy herself with the baby on her hip. And there’s farm life teeming everywhere — the dog chasing a sheep, lots of crows, some cows . . . observant young ones will find a story on each spread, told in Bryant’s warm illustrations. Pair it with Amy Schwartz’s Old MacDonald for one cozy story time about daily life on a farm.

2 comments to “Picture Book Round-Up: Down on the Farm”

  1. I came across your work(paintings) on the ‘net’…’ Barn Dance’ was the one which caught my eye…it is very nice and looks great in stereographic….Ed.

  2. […] (without being too cutesy), conveying that Chuck-Jones sensibility somethin’ fierce. (And I still say that The Perfect Nest by Catherine Friend, illustrated by John, was one of the funniest picture […]

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