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Fall on the Farm

          Before you take your children to pick pumpkins or enjoy a hayride this fall, be sure to check out picture books showcasing farm life.

          Elisha Cooper’s “Farm” focuses on the farm family as much as on their daily work.   The two farmers and their two children plus a house, two barns, four silos and lots more make up a farm where feed corn is the main crop.
Tractors rumble back and forth on the bare dirt in early spring, March brings mud, and later the children plant tomatoes and carrots. The children have other chores, too, of course: feeding the cattle (the girl) and the chickens (the boy). Summer brings heat, and fall brings the harvest, with the farmer in his combine checking the corn’s yield on his computer and talking with other farmers on his cell phone. 
          Farmers might find this a somewhat leisurely look at their busy lives, but Cooper’s pace allows children to explore every nook and cranny of the farm. When summer rolls around, for example, he shows everyone looking for a cool place – the boy building forts in the hayloft, the girl reading on a swing in the shade, Homer the dog lying down on the cool concrete floor of the barn.
          Cooper devotes several double-page spreads to the animals: barn cats, a couple of dogs, the herd of chickens, two roosters, the black and white cattle, plus wild animals like skunks and rabbits. 
          The watercolor paintings take advantage of the book’s horizontal layout. Double page spreads showing the landscape after a storm, or the farm at night with stars twinkling above alternate with pages filled with spot drawings. The illustrations stand on their own, but the text is filled with observations that will resonate with anyone who has a moment to look and listen.
          Arthur Geisert takes a less idyllic approach in “Country Road ABC, An Illustrated Journey through America’s Farmland.” Fans of his earlier books about Rube Goldberg-like inventions will appreciate how his etchings show every detail of the farms in this flat corner of the country. In alphabetical fashion, readers learn about Erosion, find that Fencing is hard work, observe that cows sometimes Kick, and discover that the Oat delivery leaves everyone itching all over from the dust and the chaff.
          But it’s not only hard work and disaster (Quicksand and Rust). Geisert also shows people gathering for Coffee and Candy at the local store, the July 4th parade that includes tractors and horses, and the Winter afternoon that finds farmers playing cards and warming up over cups of coffee.
          The acknowledgements pages listing the many farmers he consulted make it clear that Geisert has done his homework on this road, whose coordinates are given on the X marks the spot page. (A quick search of Google Earth places the location somewhere southwest of Dubuque, Iowa.)
          Round out your reading with Loren Long’s “Otis.” This is an old-fashioned story about a tractor that’s neglected in favor of a shiny new model and left to rust among the weeds behind the barn. But little Otis turns into a hero when his friend the calf gets stuck in a muddy pond and no one can get him out. Otis chugs to the rescue, "putt puff puttedy chuff," saves the calf and earns a special place on the farm.
 First published in the Free Lance-Star on September 21, 2010.