Kid's Stuff -- Books About Farmers, Farms & Farm Animals
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"Little Farm By The Sea"
Written by Kay Chorao
Illustrated by Kay Chorao
(Henry Holt, 1998)

A very nice, very explicit presentation of life on an independently-owned, small family farm (based on a real farm on the East Coast...) It's kinda on the long side for smaller children to sit through, but if your kid is fascinated with food farming, this is a very good book to present an idealized, idealistic version of that life. Beautiful, realistically rendered artwork balances a slightly dense, flat text. Worth checking out! (B)

"The Hullabaloo ABC"
Written by Beverley Cleary
Illustrated by Ted Rand
(Morrow Junior, 1960/1998)

A lively, action-packed alphabet book, following three farm kids who dash about all morning long, skinning their knees, waving at trains and riding on their pony. It's kind of old-fashioned, but still lots of fun. Ted Rand's artwork in the new, 1998 version is what makes this book so captivating -- the 1960 original is also nice, but this edition has a lot more zing. (B+)

"Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type"
Written by Doreen Cronin
Illustrated by Betsy Lewin
(Simon & Schuster, 2000)

This one's for older kids, but was still a hit with my one-year-old... An easygoing satire of union politics, this whimsical tome finds one Farmer Brown in conflict with his barnyard animals -- the cows have discovered an old typewriter left behind in the shed, and begin using it to issue ultimatims to the short-tempered Mr. Brown. The text is hilarious, and I am a big fan of Betsy Lewin's artwork (particularly her excellent Kitten In Trouble.) The adult side of the humor -- making fun of labor-management struggles -- may be lost on little kids, but for parents with the right background, this is a really funny book. Recommended! (B+)

"Radio Man/Don Radio"
Written by Arthur Dorros
Illustrated by Arthur Dorros
(Harper Collins, 1993)

A nice, richly detailed bilingual story about a young boy named Diego who moves with his migrant worker family from job to job and state to state, driving from the cabbage fields in Texas on through the Southwest and up to the apple harvest in Washington state. The story -- which incorporates Spanish words into the English text, and is also translated into Spanish at the bottom of each page -- puts a human face on farm labor, and presents information that many readers might not already know. For example, that migrant kids (often) attend school, and that their fieldwork can involve skill and pride. One nice touch is when the family is driving up North, they pass through California not as workers but as tourists, visiting the old-growth redwoods and seeing the ocean. The book's through-line, that Diego listens to the radio everywhere he goes, also provides a wonderful dramatic opportunity for parents and other readers to enunciate in "announcer" voices... The bilingual content and cultural messages are skillfully presented -- the story is involving but not preachy. Recommended! (B+)

"Queenie, One Of The Family"
Written by Bob Graham
Illustrated by Bob Graham
(Candlewick, 1997)

A typical Bob Graham alterna-family -- Dad with ponytail and earrings, Mom with spiky hair and comfy clothes -- wind up adopting a stray chicken named Queenie, who cluckily moves in and attempts to displace the poor family dog. They take Queenie back to her original home -- a rural farm on the other side of the freeway -- but the resourceful Bantam hen keeps wandering back and depositing eggs (in the dog's bed) for the family to use however they see fit. Their little girl loves Queenie, but when a new baby is born, the hen takes the hint, and moves back to the barn. It's a kooky story, but it has a nice feel. Mostly I like the ambience -- Graham has a way of depicting people who (to me) feel familiar and comfortable to be around. It's almost as if you're just a guest, casually hanging out when the chicken wanders in through the doorflap, and your friends tell you the story of how the chicken showed up one day... Anyway, I like Graham's style a lot, and this is a thoroughly enchanting, kooky little story. (Published in the UK as Queenie The Bantam.) (B+)

"Over On The Farm: A Counting Picture Book Rhyme"
Written by Christopher Gunson
Illustrated by Christopher Gunson
(Scholastic Press, 1995)

A nice barnyard counting book -- cats stretch, sheep leap, foxes rustle, birds flap, frogs splash -- all with bright, colorful artwork and good rhyming text that scans well (on all the number-related pages except the mysteriously clunky #7, where Londoner Gunson tries to rhyme "the seven" with "hut old and wooden..." Maybe it's a British thing...). An okay book, though it didn't totally wow me. (B)

Written by Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith
(Greenwillow, 1994)

Wonderful stuff. This book looks at life on a family farm, as seen through the eyes of Nora, a young girl who lives and works alongside her grandfather and grandmother. In this introductory volume, Nora helps mow the fields to lay the hay down to dry. Along the way, she and her grandfather cut wide swaths to spare the habitat of some of the animals that have built homes in the field -- it's a nice story which combines reverence for hard, honest labor along with mercy and kindness towards small animals, as well as a child's sense of wonder at the natural world. These books are probably best for an older reader (maybe ages 5-8?), although younger readers might like them as well. I find myself inevitably comparing Jessie Haas' work to that of Kim Lewis -- both authors deal with farm life and farmwork using a realistic touch, both in the writing and in the artwork. Unlike Lewis, Haas has a light touch, and doesn't dwell as much on the hardness and harsh realities of farm life. Nora is also a much stronger -- or at least more likable -- character than the typical Lewis protagonist. Anyway, I like these books; so does the rest of the family. Recommended! (A)

"No Foal Yet"
Written by Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith
(Greenwillow, 1995)

Nora and her family are waiting for one of their horses, a mare named Bonnie, to give birth. Grandpa stays up late several nights in a row, but it is Nora who happens to be there when the foal finally comes. A nice, simple story which imparts the sense of drama and urgency surrounding a farmyard birth, but only hints at potential dangers. Again, Haas imparts a sense of wonder and reverence for life... Kids who are into horses should love this book; nice, also, if you want to teach them about life on the farm. (A)

Written by Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith
(Greenwillow, 1996)

Nora and her grandfather make maple syrup, tapping it straight from the tree. (-)

Written by Jessie Haas
Illustrated by Jos. A. Smith
(Greenwillow, 2000)

A sequel, more or less, to 1994's Mowing. The grass is cut and the clock is ticking for the sun to dry it into hay and for Nora and her family to gather it up and get it into the barn, before the rain falls. Under grey skies, the family works as fast as they can to lay in the year's feed for all the animals, but only barely make it to the barn in time. An unpretentious sense of drama suffuses this simple story, rich with detail and a fascinating presentation of old-fashioned hand-harvesting techniques. Another neat farm book in this intelligent, captivating series. (A)

"When The Moon Smiled: A Bedtime Counting Book"
Written by Petr Horacek
Illustrated by Petr Horacek
(Candlewick, 2004)

A classy book with a leaden plot and sluggish delivery. I persist in liking it, despite all evidence that it doesn't do much for anyone else in the family. The plot is simple: as night falls, the moon looks down on a farmyard, and lights a new star for each set of animals -- cows that need to sleep, foxes that wake up and play, etc. The layout is what makes this one special: each die-cut page reveals an additional star in the sky, culminating in a skyful of twingling lights, but the narration is a bit clunky. I think this book helped my girl learn to count, but it was mostly because I was so grind-y about drumming the message in. It's not actually a very fun book, but it does have nice artwork. (B-)

"Emma's Lamb"
Written by Kim Lewis
Illustrated by Kim Lewis
(McMillan, 1991)
British author Kim Lewis specializes in realistic representations of traditional farm life in the English countryside; many of Lewis' books have a somewhat severe character to them, an anti-sentimentalism which not only acknowledges, but emphasizes the unbendable realities of farm life. This one's kind of an exception to the rule, though, a cute, comedic story about a little girl who is given a stray lamb to watch over while her father looks for the missing ewe. Emma thinks the lamb would make a nice pet and that she could take care of it herself... She plays with it as though it were a dolly, but eventually realizes that (A)

Written by Kim Lewis
Illustrated by Kim Lewis
(Walker, 1992)
One of the classic Kim Lewis books, but also one of the more bummerly. Floss is a sweet sheepdog who has ben raised in town, where he plays with the local children and is generally quite content. For unexplained reasons, Floss' owner decides to give him to one of his sons, who has a sheep ranch in the country, and Floss is soon reprimanded for being playful, even when he is not herding the flock. Later the farmer relents and allows Floss to play with the children again, but the emotional tone is kind of harsh. Really little kids won't get what's going on, or why the doggie is being yelled at... I'm not sure I do, either. Beautiful artwork, though! (B-)

"Little Puppy"
Written by Kim Lewis
Illustrated by Kim Lewis
(Walker Books, 2001)
One of the nicest and simplest of Kim Lewis' farm books set in the English countryside. None of the too-realistic severity of the author's other books is present in this slim volume, making it ideal for the smallest of readers. A little girl named Katie visits a newborn litter of puppies and falls in love with the first one to open its eyes. The story is sweet, simple and short, almost like a haiku, and lends itself to being read again and again. Perfectly captures the magic of a small child learning about baby animals. Recommended! (A)

"Little Baa"
Written by Kim Lewis
Illustrated by Kim Lewis
(Candlewick, 2001)
A frisky young lamb and his mother get separated while grazing in a large field -- when the shepard notices the ewe (named "Ma") looking for her baby ("Baa") he treks across the pasture to find the little lost lamb. And the dog he takes with him? Why, it's none other than our friend, Floss! Beautiful, pastoral artwork which may stand in lulling contrast to the underlying anxiety of the story... But the pages turn quickly and the happy ending comes soon, so there's not really much opportunity for kids to get too freaked out about the mother-child separation issues. Nice book. (B)

"Farm Morning"
Written by David McPhail
Drawn by David McPhail
(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1985)

Beautiful artwork, but choppy writing. The story is simple: a little girl helps her daddy wake up and feed all the animals on the farm, and then once all the chores are done, they settle down for breakfast themselves. I'm a big fan of McPhail's elegant, classic art style, and his pictures of the barnyard activities are typically marvellous. Unfortunately, the narrative voice, of the sleepy, half-grumpy farmer dad, who frequently makes personal asides and jokes, is a little offputting and may leave some readers left out, like we're listening to a bunch of inside jokes. This is a book that can be fun to read, if you just describe what's happening on the page, or make up a text of your own. (C+)

"Kiss The Cow"
Written by Phyllis Root
Illustrated by Will Hillenbrand
(Candlewick, 2000)

A cute story about a strongwilled little girl named Annalisa who stubbornly refuses to kiss the family cow, even though she knows that failing to do so (thereby hurting the cow's feelings) means that ol' Luella won't give any more milk, and all the kids on the farm will go hungry. It isn't until Annalisa wonders what it would feel like to kiss a cow that she gives in, and all is put right. A goofy story, but if you've got one of those "spirited" children, one that may ring true and give you a way to talk about the downside of stubbornness. Plus, Luella the cow is just so darn cute, especially when she's all sad that the girl won't kiss her. Oh, those big, brown eyes! (B)

Written by Jill Runcie
Illustrated by Lee Lorenz
(Simon & Schuster, 1991)

Yeah, there are about a bazillion farm books, and a bunch that go the "cock-a-doodle-doo" route... This one's at the top of my list. What sets this apart is the enchanting artwork and excellent comic timing of the husband-wife team of Lee Lorenz and Jill Runcie. Lorenz is, of course, an old-timer on the staff of The New Yorker, a professional cartoonist whose loose, fluid, charcoal-y style is immensely appealing, especially when applied to the world of children's books. The text is great, too, with a strong repetitive structure that makes this book fun to read and easy for kids to learn. The plot is simple: Farmer Jones goes to sleep each night confident that his rooster will wake him up, but it is actually all the other critters in the barnyard who wake the rooster up, each animal waking the other up, until they hit the end of the moo chain. The rhythm of the writing is a delight; the artwork even moreso. I came across this one in our local library and quickly tracked down a copy online: it's been a big favorite in our house ever since. (A+)

"Emmett's Pig"
Written by Mary Stolz
Illustrated by Garth Williams
(Harper Collins, 1959)

A sweet story about a city kid who loves pigs and desperately wants to own a real one (for some kids, it's ponies, for Emmett, it's pigs...) His parents explain that they can't have a pig in their apartment, and they also can't move to a farm, but they come up with a compromise when they take their son out to a farm where the owners have set a piglet aside for Emmett to own. After he goes back home, the boy writes letters to his pig and sends money for treats, and dreams of the day when he can go back to visit the pig again. Of course, the story sidesteps the realities of animal husbandry, but if you don't dwell on that aspect, this is a lovely book. Although it's an early reader/chapter book, the plot is very clear and direct, as is the text. The lovely artwork from Garth Williams helps a lot as well. A nice look at the kinds of passions and fixations little kids can have, and creative, loving ways to address them. Recommended! (B+)

"Fiddle-I-Fee: A Farmyard Song For The Very Young"
Written by Melissa Sweet
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
(Little, Brown Books, 1992)

A delightful adaptation of this old children's folk tune, wherein a growing list of farm animals chime in after a goofy, lilting chorus. The light, brisk artwork is perfect for the text, with a gentle feel but plenty of movement and a wealth of details to point out and discuss. It's also nice to have a barnyard book where there's some variety to the animals sounds (with hens that go "chipsy chopsy" and geese that go "swishy swashy," for example...) rather than the same old moo, baa, oink quack. This book is fun to read along, very dynamic and easily made into an interactive singing game for one or more children. Recommended!

"Wake Up, Farm!"
Written by Alvin Tresselt
Illustrated by Carolyn Ewing
(William Morrow & Co., 1991)

The rural companion to Wake Up, City! (reviewed above). (-)

"Apple Farmer Annie"
Written by Monica Wellington
Illustrated by Monica Wellington
(Dutton, 2001)

A cheerful, colorful celebration of farming, with a happy gal who raises and sells her own apples, harvesting, sorting, and even baking with some of them, them hauling them to the farmer's market, all by herself. The bright, super-cartoonish artwork is appealing, as is the story. Ideal for kids who go to the markets with their parents, a nice celebration of farming and a healthy relationship to food and food production. Also includes some recipies in the back! (A)

"The Chicken Book"
Written by Garth Williams
Illustrated by Garth Williams
(Delacourte, 1946)

Ewww. A barnyard book that's a little too much on the realistic/graphic side for my tastes. Some little chicks peep about, lamenting that they'd like to eat a bug or catch a worm or kill a slug, which they all do, once their mama shows them how. The concluding page is a brief orgy of carnage as the little peepers peck their prey... It's not really that awful or grusome, but still not really the kind of story I would seek out to read my kid. If we ever do live on a farm, I'm sure she'll figure out the whole circle-of-life thing, but otherwise, why make a big deal out of it? Also, visually speaking, this isn't Williams's best work... The pictures lack the finesse and magical feel of his best work. (C-)

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