Friday, January 16, 2015

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee

Beach Lane Books

Rating: 5 stars

It's Caldecott season, and this well-deserving book is being talked about a whole lot...will it win? We'll see...stay tuned on 2 February...

All will feel something when reading The Farmer and the Clown. It's the right balance of silly and somber, though maybe it's us adults who have felt loneliness and loss a whole lot more than kids (hopefully) who see the sobering side of the message...

A curmudgeon of a farmer toils alone in his field, pausing only to watch a train roll by. When something or someone falls out of the train, he's alarmed. He drops his pitchfork and runs right over. It's a boy-clown, with a big, painted-on grin. The surly man and the smiley boy size each other up, then walk hand-in-hand to his home to eat together. When washing up, the boy-clown washes his face, washes his face paint/brave face off to reveal a sad, scared little face.

The farmer tucks the boy in his own bed and sits with him all night so the boy isn't lonely, and then does his best to cheer him up. (There's nothing quite as charming as a grumpy man humbling himself for a child.) They work together at the farmer's farm all day long, playing as well as working, clearly enjoying each other's company. Clearly lighting up each other's life.

And then, suddenly, the train returns.

They bolt to it, wave like mad to get its attention, and the clown's family is ecstatic to see him and hug him and have him back.

And yet. Now the farmer, his curmudgeon face washed off to reveal a sweet man, is lonely again.

(And isn't that the worst kind of loneliness: when you've felt un-lonely and lit up and very loved and then suddenly BAM that other person is gone and you realize how quiet and sad your life is now? And the lonely cloud follows you, envelopes you like fog?)

Because the boy-clown does go. Of course he does. Only after a very sweet good-bye with our now-sweet farmer. They wave to each other as the train separates them.

Sweetly, the farmer is not left totally alone. A circus monkey hides behind his leg, ready to surprise him after we close the book. It's a good ending, and I the reader am left with a smile. At least a half-smile, but I'm relieved the farmer isn't totally alone.

I admit: the first time I paged through this book in the fall when it was released I teared a little. It is beautiful and, like I said, well-deserving of a Caldecott.

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