Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm
by Alice and Martin Provensen
This book represents the best 40 cents I've ever spent. I would have spent ten bucks easy on this one, though. Pushing fifteen. It's that good.
That this book started off with a pile of cats made Pippi's day. That the author actually had something interesting to say about these cats made mine. I don't know about you, but we've read our share of animal books, even farm books, around here. And having lived on a ranch (briefly), I'd have to say I don't believe many authors of farm animal books have spent too much time around farm animals. Just a guess.
But I'd be willing to wager that not only do Alice and Martin live on a farm. But they live on this farm. Maple Hill. And that the animals they so lovingly and realistically portray are real, live, breathing, flesh-and-blood animals.
Like these cats.
Each animal has a distinct personality and a name. And the names, such as Other Hen and Big White Pill are so truthful. Not a Fluffy or Spot in the bunch. Often the names reflect the animals' temperaments. Other times, the names reflect the farmers' notions regarding the animals.
This is Muffin - also called Raga Muffin, Mafia, Beasty, Gorilla, and Fiend. Her friend (not shown here) is Dinah. She is thirteen years old. "Dinah has nicknames too. Hers are: Dine, Diner, Nosy Parker, and Little Sister."
Not only do I love the names, but the candor with which the authors portray the animals is delightful. Anyone who has spent any time at all around sheep knows that they are not sweet, white, fluffy animals. They are stupid, often temperamental, and always filthy. And the Provensen's have thus portrayed them.
"Almost all sheep's wool is supposed to be white.
Most of the time their wool is gray and full of thistles
and burrs and straw and mud and dirt and flowers."
Then there are the geese.
Practically perfect in every way. They eat weeds and grass. They have keen ears, like horses, and make good watchdogs. Because they are so noisy. Not even the fox wants to tangle with these guys. But there is one very big problem, one exception to perfection.
GEESE have bad tempers.
They are greedy.
They are grabby.
They are grouchy.
The lead henchman is named Evil Murdoch. See what I mean about the names?
And don't even get me started on the goats, perhaps the most predictably unpredictable of all farm animals. I had my hair nibbled down to the scalp by a frisky goat once, so I've got no love for them.
Incidentally, I've always found it very, very funny that people children and goat children are both called kids. I can't imagine grocery shopping with goat kids in tow being too much more difficult than shopping with people kids.
Perhaps my favorite part of the book deals with the death of beloved farm animals. The authors' candor extend even to this delicate subject and they handle it masterfully. Instead of being "a book about death" Animals is simply a book about farm animals, completely honest in respect to every aspect of the animals lives. And as anyone who has spent time on a farm well knows, death is an ever present companion.
The best books are always truthful. Wouldn't you agree?