Monday, March 30, 2009

Funny Farm by Mark Teague 2009

There are things I liked about Mark Teague's newest book, Funny Farm, and things I didn't like. Where should I start? I'll do the "didn'ts" first. The illustrations show animals personified. Well, some of the animals are. The main characters, Edward, and his farm family relatives, all dogs, are humanized. They stand upright, do farm chores, eat at a table, wear clothes, knit (yes, with paws) and sleep in beds. Most everybody else on and around the farm, who are also animals, act like animals. They are outside, roll in mud, live in the barn, and require care from their owners. It struck me the most on the page spread where there are pigs playing in puddle in the rain and Edward, a black and white boxer, watches from inside the house. I thought "You're a dog! Go play with them!" But, alas, he can't, seeing as how he goes through his entire visit to the farm wearing a suit and red bow tie. Another picture that bothered me was the maple syrup page. There is a raccoon driving a small cart. A rabbit is harnessed and bridled and pulling the cart. It just doesn't make sense. Maybe children, who are the target audience, of course, wouldn't notice. But I sure did.

What did I like? This book exemplifies the importance of illustrations in children's picture books. In Funny Farm, the storyline is simple. The layout puts one sentence on each full spread. The illustrations, though, actually tell more of the story than the text. It's the illustrations that show the conflict in the narrative. On that same maple syrup page, while the text reads "In the woods, Edward helps make maple syrup", we see from the illustration that Edward, while trying earnestly to "help", may actually be causing more work for his relatives. The illustrations also bring humor into the story. The illustration for the line "Edward is very hungry at dinner" shows Edward piling heaps of food on his plate. And you just know he will eat every bit of it.

Overall, a good book. I like Mark Teague's artwork. And it's the artwork, and the weird animal world, that carry this book.

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