Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Once Upon a Farm

Once Upon a Farm

Bob Artley
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 8 and up
Pelican, 2000   ISBN: 978-1565547537

When Bob Artley was a boy, he lived on a farm in Iowa, and in this book he gives readers a fascinating “view of our family’s farm where I grew up.” He begins by telling us a little bit about the history of the farm, which was established in 1877 and which Bob’s parents took over in 1917. The author then goes on to describe what it was like to live on his family farm during one typical year.

He begins with spring, a time of “mud…frost…hope.” Sometimes mild weather full of the promise of spring would suddenly vanish when there was a late-season snowstorm. Despite these mercurial conditions, Bob’s family would begin to prepare the ground for planting, and in March or early April all the farmers in the area would get out into the fields to plant oats. Bob fondly remembers how he felt when he as finally allowed to drive the tractor and “what a comfort it was to know Dad was there in case I lost control."

In the summer, Bob and his family set about making hay, which is his favorite harvest. The work is "hard, hot and dusty," but being able to bring in the hay successfully is very "satisfying" to him. Once the clover and timothy hay is cut, it has to be put in the barn, which is less fun. Not only is the work very hard, but one is often trapped under the eaves in the hot barn stuffing the haymow with the hay.

In addition to telling us about the seasonal doings on the farm, the author has also included articles about a variety of subjects including “The supper table,” “The house,” “Bees,” and “Bedtime.”

With a very personal (and often amusing) narrative, lovely annotated illustrations in color and in black and white, and amusing little cartoon style illustrated vignettes, this book is a joy to read. It will give readers an incredibly vivid picture of what farming life was like in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.