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Friday, October 17, 2014

The Farmer and the Clown, by Marla Frazee. Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster, 2014. $21.99 ages 3 and up


You know where it is
when you're there.

But sometimes you
get separated from home,
and you may need a little
help finding your way back."

In this tender story of community and connection, and without a word being said, Marla Frazee will open your heart to the possibilities of new friendships. In a recent interview at Horn Book magazine, she talked about 'emotional engagement'.

"I try to play it out in my mind to see whether there's something there to follow - what I would call the beating heart of that idea. If I can't find it, I won't be engaged in the idea anymore."

The heart of this idea is brilliantly portrayed in the engagement that comes when a stern, hardworking farmer stops his work to watch a circus train pass on nearby railway tracks. As he watches, he is surprised to see a small form fall from the back of the train. He goes to investigate and finds a tiny clown, sitting and holding his toes. In pantomime, the clown shows the farmer what has happened and ends his pantomime clinging to the farmer's thin legs.

Standoffish, but not unreasonable, the farmer grasps the little one's hand and they walk off together. A farmhouse offers conversation, food, washing up and a dilemma. Bedtime is fraught with worry for the unmasked clown. The farmer sits with him through the night. Morning brings unfettered delight, a sustaining meal and much work. They do it together!

When a lunchtime picnic is in order, the two take their rest under a shady tree - just in time to see the circus train's return. Off they go! We are left with conflicted feelings about the reunion...and a very funny and satisfying ending.

Black Prismacolor pencil and gouache are used with great skill to show readers a lot about changing mood, about the characters themselves, and the real pleasure to be found in new friends. I love the trade they make at the end. It is sure to provide a constant and happy reminder of their day together.

This book is an outstanding work of art...and story! So much is conveyed without saying a word. Its many nuances are carefully constructed to ensure that readers have full access to its timeless tale of friendship. Surely it will be a Caldecott contender. Bravo, Ms. Frazee!

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