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The Children's Bookshelf: Farmhouse - October 2, 2022

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Farmhouse written and illustrated with stunning authenticity by the highly praised Sophie Blackall is a fascinating story about an old, abandoned 19th Century farmhouse she saw in New York State. It was here wherein a family of twelve children once lived, played, did chores, grew up and left home.

To put together the history of this house, the author uses pieces and fragments from the rooms inside this abandoned structure allowing the farmhouse itself to host the story. The old things such as peeling wallpaper, dusty old books, curtains, clothing, strings, chairs, and an old parlor organ that now houses nuts placed there by inventive squirrels are the storytellers. “I have always loved old things,” says Blackall in her elegant Author’s Note.

The words dance lyrically through the book. At the end of the day the children “set the table and bowed their heads and dished up soup and tore up bread.” The accompanying double spread illustration shows the whole family with all twelve children gathered together.

This book is a beautiful invitation to honor family, stories, and things from past times.

Farmhouse written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, winner of two Caldecott Medals, is a treat for the ears, the eyes, and the heart of all who experience this story. The touching details from the past will particularly charm young readers 4-8 years of age and up (Little Brown and Company Books for Young Readers).

The Children’s Bookshelf is a production of WCMU. Links to the podcast and the Activity Questions can be found at Children’s Bookshelf dot org.

Activity Questions for Farmhouse

The author loves “old things” and counts on them to tell much of this story. Which old things shown in the illustrations do you visually enjoy? Why? Do you have any “old things” in your bedroom, the kitchen, or the front room? Make a list of things you want to keep. Make notes as to why you want to keep each item, so they won’t be thrown away.

Turn to the marvelous illustration of the bedroom of the older sisters. Study their walls and floors and all about and find the following items: a picture of a champion cow, a blue ribbon, a hairbrush, a toy car, a green bedspread, a picture of a workhorse, a picture of three men sitting on a rock in the middle of the water, a framed picture of the red house itself, a picture of an old car and possibly mom’s and dad’s wedding picture.

Take a long look at the illustration of the family blessing and eating their food. How many babies and children can you count? All 12 children are there.

Sue Ann Martin is professor emerita of Communication and Dramatic Arts and the founding and past Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts at Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. She first became interested in children’s literature when she wrote her PhD thesis on the oral characteristics of the Caldecott Award-winning children’s books. Her PhD is in Speech and Interpretation with a cognate in Early Childhood Education. She went on to review children’s books for the Detroit Free Press, write three popular resource books for teachers regarding children’s books and the creative process. She also reviewed newly-published books for Arts Almanac specials on WCMU Public Radio. Her 2002 children’s books special for WCMU won a Merit Award in Special Interest Programming from the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.