Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Spotlight on Children's Books: Ox-cart Man by Donald Hall

I took the kids to the library yesterday and I thought I would periodically include some book reviews on my blog. Enjoy!

I first saw this book on an episode of Reading Rainbow on PBS when I was about 13 or 14 and in bed with a cold. (For those of you who think that 14 is "too old" to be watching PBS, you are missing out! You are never too old to learn from public television!) The host of the show, Lavar Burton, was touring Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachussets. Old Sturbridge Village is a working village in which the workers dress, speak, act and work as townspeople of the late 1700 to early 1800s would have done. You can check out more about Old Sturbridge Village at www.osv.org.

In Ox-cart Man, the man and his wife and their son and daughter work through the year to make goods for him to sell in the spring. He takes honey and honeycombs, vegetables, goose feathers, apples, maple syrup, a shawl his wife made, mittens his daughter knit, and birch brooms that his son carved with a borrowed kitchen knife. After he and his family load up all of these things on the ox-cart, he walks ten days to Plymouth. He sells everything at the market there, down to the boxes the goods came in and then his cart and finally his ox. With some of the money he has made, he buys an iron kettle, an embroidery needle for his daughter, a barlow knife for his son, and 2 pounds of wintergreen candies for them all to enjoy. When he gets home, his wife uses the new kettle to make supper in. His daughter takes the needle and starts embroidering linen that she and her mother have woven from flax, and his son, now having his own knife, begins to carve birch brooms. The man begins sewing new harnesses for the young ox in the barn, and carves a new yoke for it and the whole cycle starts over again.

The illustrations in Ox-cart Man, by Barbara Cooney, are just beautiful. They look very much like paintings of early 19th century American folk artists. I highly recommend this book to everyone because the story and illustrations are so wonderfully matched. Just because it is found in the children's section does not mean it is meant only for the enjoyment of children!

I love this book because it reflects very much how wonderful a simple life can be, where everything you need comes from the hard work of your own hands. While I wouldn't give up my computer for anything, sometimes I think I would like to work at a place like Old Sturbridge Village, where everything you have is grown, gathered or else acquired by selling what you have grown (or made from what you have grown as with the linen and wool). I guess that's why I like reenacting so much- I can work on hand crafts for the weekend and satisfy that wish for quaintness, but then come back to my world of conveniences during the week.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that quaintness appeals to me. I love history and often felt I was born in the wrong century. But like you, I don't think I could do without the modern conveniences. I'll have to pass this book review along to my younger sister. She has 5 children and homeschools. Currently she is involved with a homeschool group that gets together to study historical periods by actually reenacting it. She has many pictures on her blog of their outdoor medieval lesson. The girls dressed up as princesses, queens, and peasants. The boys were squires, pages, knights, peasants, etc. They played games characteristic of the times such as archery. They had a giant paper mache rock (looked pretty real) from which the knights pulled a sword (like King Arthur). It looked like great fun. I know you would have liked that kind of thing.