Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend Theme: Down on the Farm
Review: Dairy Queen Series
Review: Wow, It's A Cow!
Review: Pig-a-Boo!

This week my Lil Guy has been talking a lot about the farm.  We went to a local children’s museum and he could have played for hours in the room set up to look like a farm.  He plucked apples that were stuck with velcro to the painted trees and ‘drove’ around in the mini tractor.  He wore a cow costume and pretended the chicken laid eggs.  This week he also got a new pair of overalls which he thinks makes him a farmer.  Put this together with the countless farms actually close by that he can see as we drive, and you have a Lil Guy who at age 2 and a half is convinced that farming is the career for him.  I guess I got caught up in it too, reading some books that were set on a farm and learning a little bit about farming too.  That is why this week’s Weekend Spotlight is: Down on the Farm.

Kids love farms because of all the animals and free space to run and play.  From a very young age animal sounds are favorites and are imitated by babies and toddlers very early.  My Lil Guy is no exception.  He loves wearing farm animal costumes and tells each of us in the family that we are different animals.  He pretends there is a donkey in the car as we are driving for example, braying and then asking if we heard anything.  It’s all big fun at our house.  It’s no surprise that farm books and farm animals books are favorites too.  I also got caught up in the farm craze this past week as I finished the Dairy Queen series by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  Here is some of the best of the farm books at our house this week.

Dairy Queen Series

Dairy Queen is a trilogy of YA books written by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.  The books are set in Wisconsin on a dairy farm.  The books are written from a teen age girl’s point of view;  D.J. is sharing her story with some perspective, sharing details about her life, and the consequences of her actions.  We meet her family, her friends, and even a few foes.  All of this means that the Dairy Queen books are sweet and fun, full of teenage angst, and very lovable.  In fact, I read the first 2 about a month ago but just couldn’t bring myself to read the last of the books and say goodbye to these characters that I really enjoyed.  While some YA fiction revels in wild teens who partake in wild activities, author Murdock instead portrays a teen who struggles to make choices, thinking about her family and the consequences.  Don’t get me wrong, our main character, D.J. has a good time and gets into trouble, but there isn’t too much shock factor with these books.  Since I grew up in a rural community myself, I found these books to be very reflective of my own teen years.

Note: The series has 2 different covers.  I really can't decide which one I like best, but I thought I would offer them both up here since (I admit): I do judge a book by its cover and maybe you do too.

In the first of the 3 novels, Dairy Queen, we meet D.J. and her family, plus a quarterback who plays for her high school rivals football team.  Brian has come to her farm to gain work ethic for the upcoming football season and help with farm chores.  D.J. sees Brian as a spoiled kid, but nonetheless, she takes advantage of help and forms a close bond with him.  As the summer continues D.J. starts to train Brian on football basics using her years of playing against her brothers as experience. 

In the second novel, Off Season, D.J. is still caught up in football drama, but manages to focus on her own sports career as well.  We see D.J. spending more and more time with Brian, but each are unsure the terms of the relationship.  Meanwhile D.J. is also dealing with friends, bullying, and family tragedy.  Once again D.J. is introspective, thoughtful, and mature as she navigates her life in front of us.

In the last book in the trilogy, Front and Center, D.J. is finally able to focus more on herself.  She is looking toward her future and trying to move on from some painful memories.  D.J.’s sports career finally hits a stride too.  She continues to be painfully shy though and finally starts to show emotion and stand up for herself.  The narration and conclusion are beautifully done in this book and will leave readers both satisfied and also also wanting more (if only author Murdock wanted to continue the series!).

I just adored these books.  I wish that these were the types of books I had read as a young teen.  Characters like D.J. are not common enough in YA fiction.  D.J. is so real!  She has doubtful moments, she never thinks of the right thing to say at the right time, and she loves her family even though she doesn’t always understand them or agree with them.  Author Murdock doesn’t come across preachy or goody-two shoes either.  Because the story is told from a teen’s point of view, the story comes across as very genuine and real instead of short and choppy .  Because of this, a reader really does connect with D.J. and all of her situations. 

It is without hesitation that I recommend these books to YA readers.  Perfect for even older middle school students, the books are short enough to keep hesitant readers interested and full of enough details and storyline to satisfy most readers.  I have also read Princess Ben by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, but these are even better.  I had read on Murdock’s website that she doesn’t intend to continue D.J.’s storyline, which to me is a loss.  Although the conclusion to D.J.’s story does satisfy, my mind keeps drifting back to where she might be a couple of years.  My only advice to readers is that if you decide to try the Dairy Queen trilogy, go ahead and get all 3 books because you won’t want to stop at 1, 2, or maybe even 3 like me.

Wow, It's A Cow!

Wow, It's A Cow! by Trudy and Jay Harris is a well-loved book at our house.  The farm theme is a favorite, but it’s the funny story and hilarious illustrations by Paige Keiser that keep us wanting to read this one again and again.  In this book you meet a farmer who is in search of his cow.  He meets several animals but each one is not the cow.  The illustrations show an ‘udderly’ fabulous cow acting like a different farm animal with each page have a flap to lift showing the real farm animal.  This results in really funny scenarios such as the cow doing the backstroke in the pond and sitting up in a tree near a tiny nest.  The last page is a small reward of opening 2 barn doors to reveal a farmer milking a cow.
As I was looking to review this book I saw that the book was dedicated to Harris’s own grandchildren, which I thought was sweet.  I also wasn’t surprised to find that Trudy Harris is a kindergarten teacher, which is perfect since I could see a class reading this at circle time.  I would recommend this book to parents who like to read aloud to toddlers, preschool teachers, and young children who feel that farming might be a career for them someday.  It’s cute and interactive.  It will also make you laugh. 


Pig-a-Boo!: A Farmyard Peekaboo Book by Dorothea DePrisco is a toddler book with a lot going for it.  Pig-a- Book is a peek-a-boo game with farm animals.  Each pages has a short riddle about a farmyard favorite.  The book has a hard cover like a board book but has stiff, glossy cardboard pages that open to reveal a hiding farm animal.  Each of the hidden animals also has a piece of texture to touch and feel.  The texture spots are a little 3 dimensional too, with the horse having yarn pieces that stick out from the book.  The text is cute and will definitely keep toddlers attention.  Lil Guy likes this one but isn’t simple enough for him to read yet and isn’t long enough for him to choose for us to read to him over and over again, so for now it’s not being read too often at our house, but may come into favor again on a whim.   I think most toddlers will enjoy this book, especially if they are into farm animals. 

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