In this wordless masterpiece, Marla Frazee (All the World) depicts a life-altering meeting between a farmer and a clown.
She begins at sunrise, as the farmer sets out to work. The sun's rays connect the farmer with his modest wooden house in a horizontal embrace. He takes pitchfork to hay. The furrow on his brow echoes the furrows of his field; his long white beard comes to a triangular point. The muted palette plays up the brown of the earth, the gold of the hay, the stark-white clouds. Frazee pays attention to every detail in her pencil-and-gouache illustrations: the thin white band around the farmer's wide-brimmed brown hat picks up the narrow brown suspenders that hold up his matching brown trousers and extend across his spotless white long-sleeved shirt. He takes a break to stand, pitchfork in hand, and watch a circus train--a spray of colors moving on the tracks abutting his farmland. The full-bleed, full-spread image accentuates the seemingly endless horizon line.
On the next page, something falls from the train, the farmer drops his pitchfork, his posture bent in surprise. In two side-by-side framed images, Frazee charts the farmer's approach and zeroes in on the clown-child left behind, who gives the bearded man a wide smile. At first, the farmer seems nonplussed by the little clown's attempts to make him laugh, with tricks and overtures of affection. But the farmer takes him by the hand--the red upward-pointing clown hat the perfect yin to the yang of the man's downward-pointing snow-white beard. It's sunset as the two reach the house, where a cow, rooster and chickens await.
The man alters his routine, giving up his bed, and even making funny faces to cheer the little fellow. The next day, they do chores together. In a series of vignettes, the man teaches the boy to milk the cow, the clown teaches the farmer to juggle eggs (perhaps the man will improve with practice). Frazee's limited palette brings to the fore the red of the clown's outfit and his bright gold collar; she visually conveys the light this child brings to the farmer's life. But readers know this cannot last.
As the farmer and the clown set out for a picnic, the train returns ("Toot! Toot! Toot!" the only word in the book). They run to the tracks; the boy can hardly contain his energy. A cascade of colors dominates the spread as the clowns envelop the smallest member of their company. But oh what a moving farewell the clown gives his farmer, with the unfettered affection of a child. As the train pulls away, we see that the farmer has given the child a memento. And the farmer has gained something, too. In 32 pages, Frazee takes us on an emotional journey that neither farmer, nor clown--nor reader--will ever forget. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Shelf Talker: A Caldecott Honor artist takes readers on a wordless emotional journey that begins with a life-altering meeting between a farmer and a clown child thrown from a circus train.