Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Down On The Farm

If you were to ask your readers how many have ridden on a wagon pulled by a tractor, depending on your location, you might receive a favorable response.  When asked how many have had the pleasure of actually riding on the tractor your numbers will probably diminish.  Factoring in their ages the amount who have actually driven a tractor will be even less.  Having done all three myself, I can say in all honesty, after the third option, with the broken barn door as evidence, I was delegated to the open fields.

Life on a working farm is busy with long days of work; the epitome of there never being a dull moment.  When it's Farmer's Brown's place laughter is a given. Click, Clack, Peep! (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, February 10, 2015), the newest installment in a much-loved series written by Doreen Cronin with illustrations by Betsy Lewin, is a rousing rendition by the famous animal crowd.

Click, Clack, peep!
Farmer Brown stuck his head out the window.
The farm was too quiet.

There is not a sound to be heard because all the critters are gathered around a straw nest.  In the exact center is an egg ready to open.  There's one crack, two cracks, three cracks, four, five, six and seven cracks.  A furry, fuzzy yellow baby duck pops out.

This little duck is so happy to be hatched it laughs, waddles, plays and peeps.  It peeps a lot.  And it keeps on peeping when all the others are yawning.

Each of the animals, the chickens, the cows, and the sheep, draw on their maternal instincts trying without success to get the baby duck to quit peeping and sleep.  They all leave the barn, even the mice, to get much needed rest.  Baby Duck keeps on peeping.

As you are well aware Duck is no ordinary duck.  This Duck always has a plan.  This time it involves earphones, Farmer Brown snoozing in his hammock, a bucket, a blanket and seat belts.  This is one ride you won't want to miss.

The beat began in the barn continues throughout the story with the playful use of words by Doreen Cronin.  Each animal's voice is repeated as are the title words among all those peeps.  Repetition of phrases in different portions of the narrative is a warm welcome for participation.   They are also great building blocks to a hilarious conclusion as only Duck can provide.  Here is another sample passage.

Not a moo.
Not a click.
Not an oink.
Not a clack.
Not a baa.
Not a cluck.
Not a thing.
Then...a crack.

Rendered in watercolor the unmistakable line work of Betsy Lewin is evident from the dust jacket (I'm working with an F & G).  There is liveliness in every brush stroke.  Her full color palette is a reflection of life on the farm no matter the time of day.  On the back, to the left, on a canvas of pale yellow, there appears to be the very tractor I drove in days long past.  Not an inch of space is wasted as Lewin starts the story before the narrative begins with the cows and Duck waiting for a delivery, the truck arriving, and Duck receiving a box tied with a bow.  These are placed on a page before the title page, on the title page, verso and dedication page.

Her image sizes are a mix of single pages, double pages and small vignettes clustered on pages to highlight the text and supply pacing.  At times we view the scene as a whole or we are moved in close for emphasis.  One thing is apparent with every page turn.  The details on the animal faces (and Farmer Brown) are loaded with emotion.  We can't help but burst out laughing.

One of my favorite illustrations is of the chickens singing a lullaby to the baby duck.  One is rocking the little peeper.  Three others with beaks wide open are creating a chorus.  Of the four mice pictured, one is running away and another is plugging its ears.  Two others are looking on with what I am sure is hope.  Lewin uses a purple wash to generate the evening hour.

Click, Clack, Peep! written by Doreen Cronin with illustrations by Betsy Lewin is not to be missed.  Use this for a unit on life on the farm, to demonstrate the art of writing with rhythm, to show how humor is infused in writing or as a bedtime treat.  I think it would make a delightful reader's theater.  I can already hear the voices joining in as words are read aloud.

To learn more about Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin and their other books access their websites by following the links attached to their names.  At Reading Rockets are video interviews of Betsy Lewin.  If you follow this link to the publisher's website you can find some activity sheets. 

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