Quote of the Month

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Giving Sanctuary

a place where someone or something is protected or given shelter
the protection that is provided by a safe place

I would like to think each of us has a place we can call our sanctuary.  For many it may be home.  For others another structure offers peace and security for the people and shared experiences within its walls.  A beach, a wood, a mountain, a swamp or a meadow offering solitude may be the only refuge for some.  

I would like to think if our sanctuary is lost to us, others might choose to assist us.  In her newest title, The Farmer And The Clown (Beach Lane Books), Marla Frazee, without benefit of words, visualizes a single day of being lost and found for two very different individuals. It is an experience neither of them will forget.

The front and back of the dust jacket and book case left to right feature two interior illustrations from the book.  On the left the clown has run over to the farmer hugging his legs before they walk away together.  These two images initially provide more questions than answers, inviting us to open the book.

Pictured on the title page a rising sun peeking over the horizon, rays shooting up, provides light for the farmer, rake upon his shoulder, as he heads to the hay fields from his small home.  As he bends to his work during the day, a colorful train, a circus train, passes on a nearby track.  Pausing to watch he is startled to notice someone fall from the rear car.

Walking toward the now-seated person, he sees it is a small clown.  After an animated show-and-tell of how he fell off the train, the clown walks with the farmer to his home.  Not quite sure what to do with his new little visitor, the farmer goes about his evening rituals including the clown.

When the farmer washes up before bed and the clown does too, a shift in the farmer's perspective, his mindset, is clearly visible as he sees the child's features minus the painted-clown face.  Throughout the night his new thinking continues.  The daybreak ushers in a changed man.

Forgetting himself, the farmer focuses on the well-being and happiness of his guest.  Chores and unique gifts are shared.  The reappearance of the train interrupts a picnic lunch on a tree-topped hillside.  A pause in the joyful reunion reveals the true outcome of this unexpected encounter.  Goodbye waves and a walk home give readers even more to smile about as the story ends...or does it?

When Julie Danielson, co-author of Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature and blogger at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast featured Marla Frazee and this title in a post on September 28, 2014, I remarked about the essence of emotion we continually find in Frazee's work.  At that time I had only seen an F & G.  To read as often as you desire and hold the "real" book in your hands is a whole new experience.

Rendered in black Prismacolor pencil and gouache in a limited but masterfully selected palette, every line, the play of light and shadow, and intensity of color in these illustrations depicts with heartwarming clarity the difference a day can make in our lives.  It certainly did for the farmer and the clown.  Bleakness becomes uplifting bliss.

Two more important points, to me, in this title are the pacing and the characters.  By altering the size of her visuals, one page to double page to a series of smaller vignettes, some loosely framed, others page edge to page edge, Frazee adeptly unfolds the story to her readers.  She brings our hearts into the heart of the story.

Pairing an older farmer, living alone with his chickens and a cow, surrounded by a flat landscape of fields with the child, the little clown, creates wonderful human connections.  There is the connection of an elder with someone very young; both sometimes dismissed because of their ages.  There is the connection of someone living alone with another who lives with a large group.  There is the connection of being lost and found literally and emotionally.

One of my favorite series of illustrations is two pages of four small pictures of the farmer and the clown before they wave goodbye.  The very young are often more open and uninhibited in expressing their feelings.  The clown running to the farmer, the farmer picking up the child, both of them laughing, and the hug and kiss goodbye are very moving.  The impact of each is heightened by the liberal use of white space.  I know I will never be able to "read" these without my eyes filling with tears.

The Farmer And The Clown is a marvelous picture book by Marla Frazee.  It's about giving and receiving more than expected.  It's about the true meaning of having a place filled with warmth, safety and happiness...home...sanctuary.  This is one title not to be missed; a classic.

For more information about Marla Frazee and her work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Yesterday I read this outstanding interview by Roger Sutton of The Horn Book Magazine, where the two chat about this book.  For additional views of images please visit the publisher's website.  Thanks to educator Colby Sharp for tweeting today about this fantastic interview of Marla Frazee at ZULKEY.  Update 12/11/2014 Marla Frazee talks about her book at TeachingBooks.net.  Update:  I don't know how I missed this interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast hosted by author and blogger Julie Danielson with Marla Frazee sharing her process for this book.


  1. I just love this book. It's everything a wordless pb should be. I enjoyed this review!

    1. I love it too, Elizabeth. It still amazes me how much emotion Marla places in her artwork. I'm so glad you enjoyed the review. Thank you for stopping by my blog.