Forgotten Bookshelf: Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen
What is it about the autumn that makes me want to go out and visit a farm? There’s something about the crisp air and fragrant earth that makes me want to go out and enjoy it more, I suppose. However, dropping the day’s already-made plans and hoofing it out to the countryside isn’t an option for everybody. In lieu of that, may I proudly present this lovely picture book as a possible substitute?
This volume is more closely related to a sketchbook than a conventional picture book – it contains a wealth of large and small watercolor illustrations of all the animals that inhabit your run-of-the-mill small family farm, from the horses, sheep, and pigs down to the woodpeckers and moths that are occasionally seen flitting around the farmhouse. The Provensen’s illustrations show the same folk-art style that is exhibited in their well-known books The Glorious Flight and A Visit to William Blake’s Inn, but are more casual here – the animals and human figures sport a heavier line and rounded, almost cartoonish bodies, but this gives the book an authentic, intimate feel, as if they had been penned this morning just for you on the front porch.
What is really remarkable here is the Provensen’s ability to give a real sense of the animal’s personalities and behavior. Each one is allotted just a paragraph or a few sentences, but it manages to capture the essence of each creature in a clear, straightforward way, such as in these samples:
Ichabod and Comanche [two horses] are very sure-footed and the love to gallop . . . they are afraid of silly little things like unexpected pieces of paper.
[The geese] bully the dogs, complain to the cats, and pinch the sheep’s ears. That’s the trouble with geese, who are otherwise nearly perfect.
Whiney [the sheep] is never sure where her own lambs are. This confuses her and makes her cry. She faints when her wool is being shorn. But Whiney has a good friend who likes her and looks after her – a billy goat named Sam.
With its large size and gentle text, this is a perfect outing for animal lovers of all kinds. Like the family at Maple Hill Farm, “the animals that were, the animals that are, and the animals that will be bring joy, laughter, and life.”