Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee (Picture book)

I requested this wordless picture book from the library after seeing it listed on several 'best of 2014' book lists and I absolutely agree that it's one that should be on the top of the pile.

A farmer - beautifully simple with his black hat, trousers and suspenders, and his white shirt and beard (looking rather Amish), is in his field with his pitchfork, gathering hay. He sees a circus train go by from which a clown baby is thrown - on purpose? practising his tumbling tricks?, either way he is smiling and tells his story in a brief series of movements before embracing then taking the man by the hand. They return to the farmhouse -a simple weatherboard home with a porch, a cow and a few chickens. As the sun sets the only other thing seen in the broad double page spread is a tree on the horizon.
At home we see a series of vignettes as they chat, eat their simple meal, wash in a barrel, where the smiley painted clown face is washed off leaving a rather forlorn face that is somehow magically portrayed with just a few dots. The next pair of illustrations show us the farmer watching the baby sleep with the moon out the window, then greeting him with funny faces as the sun rises through the window, followed by the farmer dancing and jumping until he brings a smile to the little clown's face, then breakfast and all the farm chores.

As the day comes to an end they head, with a picnic basket in hand, to that one tree seen earlier and as they sit the circus train drives across the horizon, greeted with much excitement as it stops and a carriage full of clowns emerges to greet the lost baby. The farmer isn't forgotten though, he gets major cuddles before he leaves, and a hat swap. The farmer walking home looking a mite sad but wearing his clown hat and with a cheeky monkey following behind, and we know that his simple life will never be quite the same again, each has left a bit of themselves with the other.
The superb illustrations, using black Prismacolour pencil and gouache*, are spare and echo the loneliness of the farmer's life, whilst also conveying that a few things is all you need to make a home. I love the colour palette with the farmer's black and white, the clown's red and yellow, the gold of the fields and the sunshine. The red of the clown's hat is echoed in the farmer's long johns and the picnic blanket. The big wide double page spreads seem to give you permission to stop and think about the story, what's happening? what are each of them feeling? Without a single word we are engaged and touched by these characters, and perhaps we will take a bit of them with us after reading too.

* Thank goodness for publishers who include this information in the credits.

The Farmer and the Clown
Wordless picture book by Marla Frazee
Beach Lane Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing), 2014
ISBN 978-1-4424-9744-3 (Hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4424-9745-0 (ebook)

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