I am worried that there may be readers out there who take a look at the cover of Elisha Cooper’s new picture book, Farm, and think, “Oh, okay, another book about how a farm works. Done that. Good times. I’ll remember this one for when I’m looking for something for the tractor-loving-five-year-old.” Please, PLEASE do not make that mistake. If you do, you will miss out on one of the most gorgeous, poetic, heartfelt picture books I’ve come across in a long time. Open it up. Start reading. You’ll see straight away that Farm is not a typical farm book. Farm is beautiful – the words and the pictures – every page. It is honest and moving. And yes, there are tractors for those who require them.
On his website, Cooper shares that he grew up on a small farm in New England, which he describes as like a “farm out of a children’s book,” not a serious working farm like the type he brings to life in this book. He was inspired by the huge farms he’d driven past in rural Illinois and he spent time doing research in that part of the world. You can read more about his research in this interview with Publishers Weekly. In Farm, he describes a year in the life of such a farm – the weather, the equipment, the animal and human inhabitants, the larger community, the land. It’s all there, the whole world of it. He describes it in perfectly simple, often poetic language, and the watercolour illustrations are evocative, in muted, natural shades.
The night scape in the middle of the book made me all shivery. The sky really is that big and that black in the country. Looking at those pages made me long to be a country girl again. Actually this whole book made me nostalgic for the rural life. The long dirt concession road where I grew up was mostly lined with family farms, so this life is not so distant from my childhood, even though our “farm” was very much a hobby farm where half the animal population consisted of embarrassingly pampered barn cats. My mom sold our farm a few years back and since then, the concession has changed a lot. Quite a few of the old farmers are gone now, and the land is being bought for purely residential use. It kind of breaks my heart, this shift away from smaller family farms.
I think Cooper’s book may open some readers’ eyes to the beauty and richness of rural life, and hopefully will get kids thinking about how farms are about more than just tractors and combines and cows and corn. Farm is a very distant cousin to the farm books you might have read before, which are so often impersonal, generic, about tools and jobs, not about a complex way of life, hard work and home. This book has emotion. It’s been a while since I’ve read a picture book that touched me this much. I’m keeping it.
Farm by Elisha Cooper is published by Orchard Books, an imprint of Scholastic.