This book by Arthur Geisert is not what you’d expect. I picked it up at the library because I was initially attracted to the illustration style. But I was in for a surprise. In fact, in the seemingly hundreds of farm books or scenes I’ve seen in children’s stories, I’ve never seen anything like this. At first I hated it. Then I thought I kind of liked it. Today, I am decidedly ambivalent. Farm scenes in children’s books are idyllic places; there is a big, red barn and happy, healthy animals wandering about while Farmer Bob in his overalls, tips his hat from his old John Deere tractor. Farm-life is a common thing to encounter in the world of children’s literature because we present it as such a lovely, interesting place and ripe for learning opportunities. Country Road ABC does not do that. It tells it like it is. Most of American farmers–those who make a living by farming anyway– are more like agro-industrial scientists and less like Old MacDonald. What would make for some good words in a Country Road ABC book? A is for… what? Apples? Animals? Autumn? No. A is for Ammonia fertilizer. How about G is for Grinding Feed or I is for Inoculate? Not your typical farm words. But real and important nonetheless. The book contains a glossary explaining more about these words. On the M is for milking page, forget the sweet idea of a plump Mrs. MacDonald sitting on a stool with her hair in a bun and a smile on her face as she milks a cow. Instead see a man hooking up industrial milking machines to a cow that’s secured in a steel harnessed area. Disarming as this all is, I think it’s useful information. Why not let kids know the truth about where their food comes from? Most of us don’t have the resources to allow us to buy from local, organic, sustainable farms all the time. So this is reality folks! And while it may be less pleasant than a “Quack, quack here and a quack, quack there” I think reality does have its place in a children’s book.
However if you remain unconvinced and prefer the traditional farm imagery, here are some favorite titles off the top of my head, just for kicks:
The Little Farm
A Farmer’s Alphabet
The Little Red Hen
Big Red Barn