Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Life on the farm

Farmers' MarketIt’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 BanterBarn­yard 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.

A-maze-ing Farm AdventureThe 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!

WeslandiaWes­lan­dia 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.

FarmFarm 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 CowsDad­dy 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 FarmThe 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 ABCCoun­try 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 FarmCen­tu­ry 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.

OtisOtis 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?

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