Richie's Picks: FARM
Richie's Picks: FARM by Elisha Cooper, Orchard, April 2010, 48p., ISBN: 978-0-545-07075-1
"And I called my farm 'Muscle in my Arm'
But the land was sweet and good, and I did what I could."
from "When I First Came to this Land" (Traditional)
"Fields lie underneath the farm. The fields are flat, stretching as far as the eye can see. There are no hills."
Growing up on Long Island in the Sixties, there were homes; there were farms (pieces of property where they had a bunch of land and grew plants or animals); there were estates (pieces of property where they had a bunch of land and grew big lawns); and there were some scattered apartment buildings.
I can remember traversing fields of pumpkins and potatoes in Commack during the fall of 1964, as I walked to a newly-constructed elementary school on Clay Pitts Road. By the following fall -- as was the case with so many other Long Island farms in the path of suburbia -- those rows of pumpkins and potatoes were just a memory, having been replaced by one more housing development.
As a grownup in California, I live on what I call a farm (because the property includes a barn and a fenced expanse of land where I pasture my goats).
"Inside the tractor, the farmer drinks coffee and listens to weather reports on the radio. Every once in a while, he turns in his seat to check the tiller.
"The tiller turns the soil, preparing it for planting. Dirt pops into the air, and the fields change from the color of milk chocolate to the color of dark chocolate."
FARM by Elisha Cooper is not about the sort of little "farm" that I live on. It is not even about the sort of potato or dairy farms I'd known as a kid on Long Island. It is about a "real" American farm of today, the sort of immense farms I see when I drive a couple of hours east into the middle of California, where one can look out for miles and see row after row after endless row of crops.
"The tractor stops. The farmer stares at the engine. He calls a neighbor on his cell phone, the neighbor brings a new part, and together they fix the tractor.
"It starts to rain. The tractor stops again. March is a mud month and weather must be dry for tilling. The farmer will have to wait. Weather can't be fixed."
I love how Cooper repeatedly immerses us in the smells, the sounds, and the sights of the farm, as well as the terminology. (He prefaces the story with a brief glossary of the agricultural terms he employs in the story.)
FARM by Elisha Cooper strikes a nice balance between illustrating how crops are grown on one of these gigantic farms and how there is a family living their life on this farm. At times, the story is reminiscent of the Provensen's wonderful Maple Hill Farm books of the Seventies. Cooper similarly introduces us to a number of the individual farm animals -- the dog and the cats and the pair of roosters -- and we read about the farmer's two children doing chores and occasionally goofing around. Month by month, the story spans the seasons, beginning early in the spring and ending late in the fall. In between, we learn how farming is a way of life, and we are given the means to recognize that we depend directly or indirectly upon those who choose this lifestyle.
"On the farm, even when it's dark, some animal is always awake."
It is incredibly valuable for kids to understand where their nourishment begins and to recognize the value of what might otherwise look like "empty" land or, even worse, like a place to plant another housing development. This story -- and the expansive beauty found in Elisha Cooper's illustrations -- will give meaning to what exactly is going on across these long, flat, fertile, and vital stretches of Mother Earth.Richie Partington, MLIS
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