Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Farm livin’ is the life for me

FarmIf you rec­og­nize that quote,* you might have a some­what warped idea of what liv­ing on a farm is all about. It’s the first day of the Min­neso­ta State Fair, which lasts for 12 days, and began 147 years ago as an homage to farm­ing and all the ways we depend on The Land.

In fact, the fair­grounds are adja­cent to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Minnesota’s “Cow Col­lege,” the St. Paul cam­pus where agri­cul­ture, hor­ti­cul­ture, home eco­nom­ics, and vet­eri­nary sci­ences have been taught for decades and decades. It’s a “land grant” uni­ver­si­ty: “The mis­sion of these insti­tu­tions as set forth in the 1862 Act is to focus on the teach­ing of prac­ti­cal agri­cul­ture, sci­ence and engi­neer­ing (though “with­out exclud­ing … clas­si­cal stud­ies”), as a response to the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion and chang­ing social class. This mis­sion was in con­trast to the his­toric prac­tice of high­er edu­ca­tion to focus on an abstract Lib­er­al Arts cur­ricu­lum. Ulti­mate­ly, most land-grant col­leges became large pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties that today offer a full spec­trum of edu­ca­tion­al oppor­tu­ni­ties.” (Wikipedia)

There was a time in this fair land when every­one knew how fer­vent­ly we depend on farms for healthy eat­ing and sound land use prac­tices. Now? Not so much.

Is it any won­der, then, that books for chil­dren and teens set on farms are infre­quent­ly pub­lished? Every­one in the Mid­west moans about this. Read­ing about snip­py soci­ety girls in New York is a form of fan­ta­sy for most of the coun­try, but farms are near­ly every­where else. Keep­ing the chil­dren who live on them vis­i­ble and respect­ed, offer­ing life on the farm as an intrigu­ing aspi­ra­tion … well, children’s book pub­lish­ing doesn’t do such a good job of that.

Here are a few books for old­er read­ers to extend the arti­cle I wrote on farms about this time last year. As you’re eat­ing fresh toma­toes and cucum­bers, but­ter­ing sweet corn, and chomp­ing into a piece of whole wheat bread, I hope one part of your brain is say­ing thank you to the farm­ers who brought you that food.

Barn Boot BluesBarn Boot Blues by Cather­ine Friend (Mar­shall Cavendish), avail­able after Octo­ber 1st. Tay­lor McNa­ma­ra is twelve. Her par­ents have done the unthink­able. They’ve moved from the big city to a sheep farm “in the mid­dle of nowhere.” Tay­lor not only los­es her friends, the mall, and all pas­times asso­ci­at­ed with the city, but she has sheep gunk on her shoes. At school, Tay­lor feels embar­rassed by her new life. Not know­ing how to bal­ance her new farm duties with her social life caus­es con­ster­na­tion. Her pre­vi­ous­ly cool par­ents are either a) not home—her Dad or b) buried under farmwork—her Mom. Their pre­vi­ous­ly close fam­i­ly is torn to pieces, all because her moth­er had a dream of farm­ing. A new friend teach­es Tay­lor to weave sheep’s wool and gives a life­long per­spec­tive on farm­ing. But it’s the mir­a­cle of birth—in the barn—that helps Tay­lor under­stand how life on a farm could be amaz­ing.

Heart of a ShepherdHeart of a Shep­herd by Rosanne Par­ry (Ran­dom House) came out in 2009. If you haven’t read it yet, you’re miss­ing one of the best pieces of lit­er­a­ture pub­lished in recent years. Writ­ten in aching­ly beau­ti­ful prose, the book evokes the wide and heart-fill­ing skies of east­ern Ore­gon as much as it does the close, and often anx­i­ety-laden, life on the fam­i­ly ranch. Broth­er, at age eleven, is the youngest of five boys in a fam­i­ly that not only farms but serves in the mil­i­tary with hon­or. With many lay­ers and tex­tures, Heart of a Shep­herd is apt­ly named because it also delves into the spir­i­tu­al growth of Broth­er, who has been raised in a Catholic house­hold. When Brother’s father is called away to serve in Iraq, ten­sion esca­lates on their farm. Broth­er must help his grand­par­ents work the ranch because crops and live­stock don’t get put aside when your coun­try calls. It’s Brother’s grand­fa­ther who pro­vides the touch­stone in this book. Broth­er looks all around for answers to the big-as-the-Ore­gon-sky ques­tions he has. An avowed and respect­ed Quak­er, Grand­fa­ther talks with Broth­er about war and belief and life. The new cir­cuit priest pro­vides direc­tion and so does a shep­herd work­ing on their farm. It all works seam­less­ly into a sto­ry that will work for read­ers on dif­fer­ent lev­els. There’s plen­ty of action, lots of ten­sion, and a sat­is­fy­ing amount of inner reflec­tion. When you fin­ish this book, you’ll feel as though you’ve lived for awhile on this ranch in Ore­gon, talk­ing things over with Broth­er.

And Now MiguelAnd Now, Miguel by Joseph Krum­gold (Harper­Collins) was first pub­lished in 1954. Set in the San­gre de Cristos Moun­tains at the south­ern­most tip of the Rock­ies, Miguel lives with his fam­i­ly on a ranch in north­ern New Mex­i­co. They are sheep ranch­ers on a large scale. Miguel wants more than any­thing to be allowed to accom­pa­ny the men into the moun­tains when they take the sheep to high­er graz­ing pas­tures in the sum­mer. His father con­sid­ers Miguel to be too young and every scheme Miguel con­cocts seems to bear out his opin­ion. When Miguel prays to God that he be allowed to go, it seems his prayer is answered by his favorite old­er broth­er being draft­ed. Miguel’s guilt is pal­pa­ble. This is a book from a dif­fer­ent time, with a dif­fer­ent pac­ing, but it’s still an engross­ing read. As a side note, at the time, the New York Her­ald Tri­bune review­er said of Jean Charlot’s illus­tra­tions for this book: “Ful­ly half of our plea­sure in the book lay in the superb Char­lot draw­ings.” In fact, Peter Morse in his book about Jean Char­lot called him “the great­est artist ever to devote him­self reg­u­lar­ly to the field of children’s books.”

Hattie Big SkyHat­tie Big Sky by Kir­by Lar­son (Ran­dom House). This book appeals on many lev­els. It’s about a 16-year-old girl who lives in already-set­tled Iowa in 1918, pack­ing up and mov­ing to Mon­tana to home­stead her deceased uncle’s claim. Based on Ms. Larson’s own grandmother’s expe­ri­ence and sup­ple­ment­ed by a great deal of research, we expe­ri­ence a life-threat­en­ing win­ter, iso­lat­ed lone­li­ness, and the sense of depen­dent com­mu­ni­ty that per­vades farm life. The first World War has its own effect on this book as Hattie’s new friends are of Ger­man descent and thus vil­i­fied for their nation­al­i­ty. Hat­tie Big Sky won a well-deserved New­bery Hon­or.

Ten Miles Past NormalTen Miles Past Nor­mal by Frances O’Roark Dow­ell (Atheneum). A very recent book, this one is set on the goat farm to which 14-year-old Janie Gorman’s fam­i­ly has recent­ly moved. Kari Baum­bach rec­om­mend­ed this book on the CLN web­site. Read her full review, in which she states “This is a sto­ry of per­son­al growth, indi­vid­u­al­i­ty, friend­ship, and fam­i­ly as Janie moves past want­i­ng to be nor­mal and invis­i­ble to mov­ing into her own indi­vid­u­al­i­ty where life opens up and she sees the pos­si­bil­i­ty of liv­ing large and mak­ing a dif­fer­ence.” It’s tough want­i­ng to be nor­mal when you’re any­thing but. Thank good­ness for anoth­er strong female char­ac­ter cour­tesy of Ms. Dowell’s imag­i­na­tion.

Dairy QueenDairy Queen by Cather­ine Gilbert Mur­dock (Graphia) and its sequels, The Off Sea­son and Front and Cen­ter, are set on a dairy farm in north­ern Wis­con­sin. With a humor­ous nar­ra­tive, D.J. Schwenck recounts the sum­mer of her 15th year, when her farmer father is injured, her two old­er broth­ers are away at col­lege, and her mom has to work a lot, leav­ing D.J. to run the farm on her own. She’s a very ath­let­ic girl with a strong his­to­ry of being in shape, but I still con­sid­er this a farm­ing fan­ta­sy. That’s okay, because it makes for a very good sto­ry, but hav­ing worked on farms, it’s not believ­able to me that D.J. could han­dle the oper­a­tion and dai­ly work on the farm while train­ing to be a foot­ball play­er and train­ing a hunky foot­ball play­er and find­ing time to wor­ry about how lit­tle her fam­i­ly com­mu­ni­cates. So I hap­pi­ly regard these as roman­tic farm­ing fan­tasies with a strong foot­ball under­cur­rent. D.J.‘s voice is one the read­er cares about and eager­ly awaits what hap­pens next.

* The quote in the first line is from the theme song to the 1960s TV show, Green Acres. The show was corny, but the theme song real­ly stuck in people’s minds.

, , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.