Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Farmer and a Clown Have A Very Good Day: The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

In a landscape surrounded by a whole lot of nothing, an angular farmer is grimly spearing some hay bales with his pitchfork, when out of the corner of his eye, he sees something colorful in motion.

It is a circus train in the distance, and as it bounces over the plains, he see something (someone?) fall from the caboose.

He hurries toward the place and sees that it's a little clown, in a red suit, peaked cap, with a big clown smile.

What to do? The farmer leads the little one toward the farmhouse, shows the small clown how to wash up, and gives him some dinner. With his big red smile washed away, the little clown looks small and sad, so the farmer tries to coax a small smile with some hat tricks with his wide black hat.

The next day the farmer sets off with the little clown on his shoulders. Together they milk the cow and feed the chickens, and the farmer shows off again, juggling the eggs from their nests, as the little guy laughs. They take a picnic out on the prairie and have a fine time together.

But then they hear a sound:


The circus train has come back for the little clown! The clown family on the train waves happily, and the little clown jumps for joy to see them. But then, he turns to the tall farmer and, wrapping his arms around the farmer, hugs him tightly. The farmer gives him a kiss and a wave, but the little clown has something else he wants to do: he gives the farmer his tall red hat, and the farmer gives him his wide black hat as a remembrance as well, and the farmer, wearing the red cap, begins the long walk back--alone again. Or is he?

Marla Frazee's newest, The Farmer and the Clown (Beach Lane, 2014), is a wordless picture book that says a lot. In a still, dun-colored landscape, a bit of life and color comes into the old farmer's world and leaves him changed. Frazee's two characters, small in the perspective of an endless "greige" landscape, speak multitudes about loneliness and longing. Multiple Caldecott honors (for All the World and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever) testify to Frazee's mastery of a variety of styles to say a lot with a little. Sharp-eyed "readers" will spot a surprise for the farmer when he looks back that forecasts some fun ahead, a wry touch that ends this book on the upbeat.

New York Times reviewer and author Grace Lin says, "An artist of a wordless picture book must be meticulous, carefully using the tools of color and composition to elicit an emotional experience just as a poet uses words. Marla Frazee's The Farmer and the Clown accomplishes this lofty goal beautifully…the entire book, with Frazee's perfect pacing of images and use of negative space, light and shadow, is true poetry."

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