Since summer is now upon us and here in Iowa I am reminded daily of the work happening on the nearby farms in my community, I thought it would be fun to spotlight some of my favorite farm books for children. I am going to make this a two part blog because there are so many wonderful children’s books about farm animals and daily life on the farm. Some are whimsical and some are factual, but what I know for sure is that every child I’ve ever taught (especially my own two sons) have loved books about farms. These first five books that I’ve chosen to review all have great illustrations and wonderful stories, all of them pointing out important life lessons. Here are some of my favorite whimsical choices.
The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash by Trinka Hakes Noble, illustrated by Steven Kellogg.
I must start with this book because this one was one of my sons’ very favorite books. The book begins with a girl coming home from school and her mom asking about the class trip to the farm. As she makes herself a snack and then changes to get ready to go outside she describes the excitement of the trip through a sequence of events that occurred that day. The cow started crying because a haystack fell on her. The haystack fell on her because the farmer crashed into it with the tractor. The farmer crashed into the haystack because he was yelling at the pigs to get off the bus. The pigs were on the bus because they were eating the kids’ lunches. And on and on it goes, culminating to the end where a surprise visitor (you guessed it-Jimmy’s boa) ends up as the cause of everything that happened on the class trip to the farm. I have to say that Kellogg’s illustrations are the best part of this book, as he is a master with facial expressions and detail. The expressions on the animals throughout the book are hilariously drawn, and this book is a great picture book for both children and adults to enjoy.
Duck on a Bike by David Shannon
I was tempted to save this book to review on a blog devoted to just David Shannon books, but I felt like it is such a great farm picture book so I’m including it on this blog post. As in all of his books, Shannon combines a funny story with fantastic illustrations, making this one of my all-time favorite children’s books (this is something you’re going to hear me say often because there are so many books in the kiddy lit genre that I love!). The story line in this book is that Duck finds a bike one day and “gets a wild idea” and decides to try and ride it. At first it’s rather difficult for him, and some wobbling occurs, but as he rides around and around the barnyard he becomes more confident and better at riding. As he rides by the animals each one lets out a cry with an accompanying thought about what Duck is doing. Cow thinks it’s the silliest thing she’s ever seen. Sheep is afraid Duck will get hurt. Dog thinks it’s a great trick. Then all of a sudden a whole bunch of kids come riding into the farmyard on their bikes, park them and go into the house. The illustration that follows this is my favorite in the book. Every animal is staring at the bikes with their eyes wide open, and you just know what’s going on in their minds and what’s going to happen next! Sure enough, every animal gets on a bike and all have a blast riding around the barnyard. When they are done with their fun they put the bikes back and “…no one knew that on that afternoon, there had been a cow, a sheep, a dog, a cat, a horse, a chicken, a goat, two pigs, a mouse, and a duck on a bike.”
Mrs. Wishy-Washy’s Farm by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Elizabeth Fuller
There are many Mrs. Wishy-Washy children’s books available, but this one is my favorite. The text is written in rhyme about Mrs. Wishy-Washy and her farm. She has a big tin tub where she bathes her cow, pig and duck, who grumble and complain about it and decide that they’ve had enough and run away from mean Mrs. Wishy-Washy. They run to the city where the “barns are big” but it is too wild for them, and there is nowhere to rest. They go into a fancy restaurant when they become hungry and are chased out by the angry chef. They wander into the hardware store where they become covered in paint and then hauled off to the “animal jail.” As they are sitting in jail crying they suddenly hear the chug of the old farm truck and they let out shouts of joy as “dear Mrs. Wishy-Washy” comes to rescue them. Back on the farm the three animals run gleefully to the tin tub for their bath with exclamations of joy, for “home is the best!”
Friends by Helme Heine
This is such a sweet story with beautiful watercolor illustrations about Charlie Rooster, Johnny Mouse and Percy Pig, who have taken the job of being friends seriously. They go together to wake up the other farm animals and then go on their daily bike ride together (“Good friends always stick together.”). Charlie sits on the handlebars while Johnny and Percy each stand on a pedal, and together the friends traverse the roughest paths, the steepest cliffs, the sharpest curves and the deepest puddles. One day as they are riding around they find an old boat lying in the grass by the pond and the three decide to play pirates (“Good friends always decide things together.”) After conquering the village pond they became hungry so they go fishing, but they don’t catch any fish because their grumbling stomachs scared the fish away. The three friends then pick cherries and share them, splitting them evenly because “Friends are always fair.” As nighttime falls they ride their bike back to the farm and swear to be friends forever (“Good friends always stick together.”) The friends decide that they need to sleep in the same place, but Charlie and Percy can’t fit in Johnny Mouse’s hole, Johnny Mouse doesn’t want to sleep in a pigsty, and then Percy breaks the perch in the henhouse. Sadly they go off to their own beds (“Sometimes good friends can’t be together.”). But they dream of each other, “the way true friends do.”
Otis by Loren Long
This book is reminiscent of the long-time favorite children’s book Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. The illustrations are “old timey,” with only black, white, gray and red, and a splash of color here and there. Otis is a friendly little tractor who happily lives on a farm. He works hard all day and then in the evening he unwinds by riding the hills, leaping over bales of hay, exploding through the haystacks and playing ring-around-the-rosy with the farm animals. He would sit under the apple tree and watch the farm below and then puff off into his stall in the barn. One night when Otis is asleep the farmer brings a young calf into the barn. He bawls for her mother but the soft chuffing of Otis calms the scared calf and lulls her to sleep. They become fast friends and spend their days side by side and playing together in the evenings. Many nights they sit together under the apple tree overlooking the farm. Then one day the farmer brings home a fancy new yellow tractor to take Otis’ place (sound familiar?). Otis is sent out back behind the barn where he is soon overtaken by weeds, sad and unwilling to play with his friend calf. One day the farmer decides to enter the calf in the county fair and when he goes looking for her he discovers she is stuck in the mud at the pond. The farmer and the farm hands can’t pull her out. The new yellow tractor can’t pull her out. The big red fire truck scares the little calf so that she sinks deeper into the mud. Nobody knows what to do when all of a sudden Otis comes chugging down the hill to the pond to save his friend! Otis starts circling the pond, like he did when they played ring-around-the-rosy, and the little calf turned slowly to follow Otis. Eventually calf pulled herself out of the pond and the two friends found each other again. From that day on, the farmer knew that Otis’ calm chugging helped the chickens lay more eggs, the cows produced more milk and Otis helped the farmer and the new tractor out in the field. But what he really enjoyed the most was sitting with his friend under the apple tree and watching the farm below.