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Book Review: ‘On the Farm’ by David Elliott

Perhaps it’s due to “Old MacDonald,” or nostalgia for living off the land, or the idea of being with all those cute animals. Whatever the reason, there is a tractor load of children’s books with a ‘farm animal’ theme.

Do a quick Amazon search and you will find over 1,000 books on the subject. David Elliot’s new book, “On the Farm” is  filled with the usual suspects: the rooster, the cow, the pig, the goat, the duck. He even adds a few new animals, like the snake and turtle and bees.

Unlike many of these predictable books however, Elliot’s words add a fresh, literary feel to the pages, by using clever poetry to describe subjects, such as the Bull: “Knows what he likes/cows and corn./Knows what he is —/ muscle and horn.” Another page that shines with originality is the Pig: “The Pig: Her tail? As coy as a ringlet./ In her eye there’s a delicate sheen./Some look at her and see a sow;/ I see a beauty queen.” There are pages where Elliott doesn’t use much innovation though: (“The Duck Quacks!/ The Goose Honks!/The Hen Squawks!”).

The illustrations for “On the Farm” are the winning feature of the book — displayed in hardback and priced at $16.99 by Candlewick Press. They are woodblock and watercolor, an art form as ancient and as much hard work as a farm itself. The contrasting, bold lines and shapes of black against pastel colors are striking. Meade’s animals are at once coarse and playful, like the farmhouse dog snoozing under the shady tree, ears flopped over his paws, with one eye open, because, “You might think/he’s keeping cool/Beware!/He’s keeping guard!”

Meade has illustrated many other books, including the Caldecott honor-winner, “Hush! A Thai Lullaby” by Minfong Ho. This is her first one with woodcuts, and considering the illustrations in “On the Farm,” it will not be her last.

The woodcut media fits nicely with Elliott’s crisp yet rhythmic text. It would be exciting to see this duo team up again on a picture book with a more original or complex topic. But farm animals are a classic staple among children’s books and toys, thus making this latest book on the subject a safe bet that children will enjoy it.

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