It’s that time of year. Farmers’ markets are bursting with color, smells, and daydreams of splendid meals. People are putting food by … knowing that berries and cucumbers and tomatoes and corn will be hard to find in the winter months. A lot of people are putting in a big effort to make sure we don’t forget where all of this delicious food comes from.
Sustainable family farms are an abiding interest of mine. Although I’ve never lived on a farm for more than three months at a time, I respect the work done by the farming families of the world. The food that maintains our health is grown by committed, educated, risk-taking stewards of the earth, many of whom are passionate about the work they do. For those of us who live in cities, it’s our job to make sure our children understand how important these farms are to each of us. In assembling this list of books, I looked for books that will inspire discussion, provoke questions, and get young minds thinking about farming.
Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming (Holt, 1994). Farm animals in appropriate farm surroundings … sounds and sights of life on a farm. Mice in the grain bins, a rooster strutting through the yard, pigs wallowing in mud. There are lots of raucous sounds here for reading aloud and sharing farm life with the very young. Denise Fleming’s handmade papers include coffee grounds and oats, evoking the gritty, reveling-in-rich-soil appeal of animals on the farm. The intense color palette makes farm life look just as energetic and awe-inspiring as it is.
The A-maze-ing Farm Adventure by Jill Kalz, illus by Mattia Cerato (Picture Window Books, 2010). Combining map-reading skills with creative problem-solving (finding the way through a variety of mazes), counting activities with reading a key and following directions, this book is fun and appropriately difficult for children ages four through eight. There are many types of farms represented, offering an opportunity to talk about the ways farmers raise crops and live their lives in different parts of the world. From a dairy farm to an apple orchard to a rice paddy to a pig farm to a truck farm, various animals, types of equipment, and farm buildings are good for seeking-out and talking-about. It’s an excellent activity book and teaching tool for a variety of uses … and all about farms!
Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, illus by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick Press, 2003). For every child (and those who were once children) who imagined how they would survive if they were stranded on an island or transported to a world with no one else to rely on, Wesley brings it home. He doesn’t share the interests of the other kids in town. He’s quiet and studious and curious and always thinking. For a summer project, he decides to start his own civilization, which necessitates establishing a stable food crop. His crop provides for all of his needs once he figures out how to use it for food, clothing, telling time, repelling bugs, and playing games. So intriguing is his new civilization that the other children in town want to be a part of it. Immensely satisfying, this book is a perfect bridge for talking about farming, a life that can be self-sustaining.
Farm by Elisha Cooper (Orchard Books / Scholastic, 2010). From spring to fall, the growing season, Cooper uses evocative watercolors to depict busy chores, omnipresent farm animals, the work done by each member of the family, the quiet times, and a plethora of cats. “Some of the barn cats don’t have names. Some do.” Elisha Cooper grew up on a New England farm, but he visited Illinois farms throughout a growing season, drawing and sketching what he observed. All aspects of farm life are represented, including, “The girl steps on a bee. The boy gets bit by mosquitoes. The cats swallow grasshoppers and hack them up. At night, everyone itches.” The pages are appropriately busy with seasonal images because life on a farm is never slow, unless it is the sumptuously quiet and encompassing night-time spread. Even then, “some animal is always awake.” This is a good one-to-one book for family members to read out loud and a child to study intently afterward. It’s also a terrific guidebook of what to expect before visiting a farm.
Daddy Played Music for the Cows by Maryann Weidt and Henri Sorenson (Windward Publishing, 2004). For grandparents who’d like to connect with younger children about their memories of farm life, this is an ideal read-aloud. A young girl’s life on a dairy farm is set to the music of the radio her daddy plays in the barn. Opera, classical, country-western, swing … cows, doves, hens … and a lot of love. There are many elements here that will open discussion. And everyone will have to try yodeling!
The Year at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provenson (Atheneum, 1984). With a chronicle of their own farm, the Provensons write humorously about the animals that make the work so interesting. The passing of the seasons is well-marked on a farm. This book moves through each month, noting how the plants and animals change. The love the Provensons feel for their farm emanates from every page. There’s so much to look at in the detailed illustrations … this has long been a favorite with families.
Country Road ABC: an Illustrated Journey through America’s Farmland by Albert Geisert (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). Paying homage to the fascination of the contemporary farms that surround his Bernard, Iowa home, Geisert depicts aspects of farm life that will strike a chord with everyone who lives, or has lived, on a farm in the Midwest. Done as an alphabet book, there are details for each word that will having adults and children poring over the illustrations.
Century Farm: One Hundred Years on a Family Farm by Cris Peterson, photos by Alfred Upitis (Boyds Mills Press, 2009). Illustrated by photos of her family taken over a decade, author Peterson describes the strongly knit bonds of her farming family, working the land on which they’ve lived for more than four generations. Nonfiction, thoroughly researched, and backed by years of experience, this is a book that will give young people a strong sense of the dedication and stewardship that keeps families farming.
Otis by Loren Long (Philomel, 2009). There’s a man at the end of my block in the suburbs who has three or four proudly restored tractors. I have a cousin who collects metal toy tractors. I often overhear discussions of fondly remembered tractors … the camps divide into International Harvester, Allis-Chalmers, John Deere, Farmall. The farmer in Otis loves his tractor this much, but he finally needs to upgrade. What will become of Otis, his beloved tractor and friend? Otis becomes a hero in a story that appeals strongly to kids. The unusual color palette brings to mind an earlier era, as does the small size of the tractor, but this is the kind of relationship we want with our machines, warm and loving.
How about you? What are you favorite books about farms?
How about books for older readers? What are your favorite books that depict older children and teens on working farms?