Tag Archive | farms

Barkus, Sly, and the Golden Egg, by Angela McAllister

Barkus, Sly, and the Golden Egg, by Angela McAllister

Barkus and Sly are two foxes who rob houses in the night. They’re “bad news,” according to the book’s first page, as they trundle their cart into town looking for unlocked windows. Now they’re after some plump roast chicken, sneaking “silent as shadows” into a henhouse. But they lock three stolen chickens in their shed overnight – leaving the chickens a chance to scheme.

I really enjoyed the deliciously dark tone of the introduction for Barkus, Sly, and the Golden Egg. (“No one is going to serve us with cream sauce,” sputters a hen named Tweed…) The chickens search for a way to escape, but all they find are cobwebby walls. “There’s no way out,” cries a hen named Biddy. “We might as well start plucking our own feathers!”

With despair solidly established, author Angela McAllister moves on to the solution. Among the foxes’ stolen loot, the hens discover a box of gold forks. “TREASURE!” gasps a hen named Bluff – though it will becomes a prop in their ruse. But McAllister also accomplishes something else with the treasure – showing how much fun it must be to be a thieving fox.

Every story needs an intriguing villain, and the foxes are actually this book’s central character. Sly is convinced that the chickens can lay a gold egg, and decides to secretly feed shoe leather to Barkus instead of one of the cooked chickens. When he returns to the barn, he becomes greedy when he sees Biddy sitting on a nest with a golden egg. It’s really just the tip of a golden ladle – but Biddy insists she can hatch this golden egg into a hen which lays more golden eggs.

So Sly feeds shoe leather to Barkus again the next night – again trying to pass it off as the meat of a second chicken. But eventually the other fox has heard the “golden eggs” story for himself from the chickens in the barn. Soon they’re running off on ridiculous errands – like fetching a birdbath or procuring a plum cake. Eventually they convince each fox that his partner has absconded with the hen that lays the golden eggs. And as the foxes head over the hill for a final confrontation, the forgotten hens head off into the night – along with the stolen golden forks! But they’re only using them to leave an incriminating trail for the farmer that leads back to the den of stolen loot.

Maybe I’m just a fox at heart, but I was hoping they were going to keep the gold for themselves!

A Regular Rolling Noah by George Ella Lyon

A Regular Rolling Noah by George Ella Lyon

“Now I’d never seen a train before today, but I’ve heard its whistle down at the mouth of the hollow…”

A farmhand walks with the animals, wearing patched jeans and a cowboy hat. He’s wearing red suspenders and a blue shirt, and he’s carrying a bed roll, since he’s helping neighbors move their farm to Canada . They ask him to walk along behind their wagon, and eventually they reach the train. “Bedding and seeds and plows, pot vessels and young’ uns – we load them into the train and it shrieking and steaming.”

“A Regular Rolling Noah” was one of the first books written by George Ella Lyon, at the age of 37. But she’d just published her first collection of poetry, and she applies the same skills to her narration.

There’s simple sentences, like “Hay and feed in the boxcar…” but they reveal so much about the character. Each item suggests the farm and its animals, and they’re listed as though they were afterthoughts, remembering a long day of loading up a train…

Illustrator Stephen Gammell keeps the story intriguing with some simple but realistic watercolors. The train’s engine has a red smokestack and its front is a big yellow circle. The skies are pastel blue, with white clouds, and the train’s tracks are surrounded by the soft green of a grassy field. There’s darker greens for the mountains when the train travels on its journey – and of course, there’s also red and yellow boxcars.

 The farmhand rides along with the animals, and it’s a journey into the unknown. Black smoke puffs fro the engine, as the train travels farther and farther. The boxcar door is open a crack, and hay spills out while the farmhand milks a cow. The next morning, when they reach a new railyard, the farmhand trades eggs for coffee with the hoboes.

“A regular rolling Noah,” one of them suggests, and the boy with the cowboy hat smiles. He has to rush after the train as it leaves the station, and then sweep out the boxcar to put down fresh hay. My favorite picture shows the boxcar from the inside, crowded with cows, a horse, and chickens. There’s a pitchfork in the hay, and the boy feeds the mare a green apple. And in the next picture, they’re all peacefully lying on their side to sleep – the horse, the cow, the calf, and the farmhand.

The Turkey Mystery Rhyme by Moe Zilla

A funny turkey ebook

Yes, it’s that once-a-year tradition, sharing this funny free ebook about turkeys — mine! It’s a fun short mystery that’s written entirely in rhyme, with 12 cartoon-y illustrations that tell the story of four turkeys on Thanksgiving Day waiting for the farmer’s axe. (“But one of the turkeys has a plan to escape!” read’s the book’s description at Amazon. “Can the farmer figure out which one? And can you?”)

For a shortcut to this free Thanksgiving ebook, just point your browser to

It’s called “The Turkey Mystery Rhyme,” and it was a real labor of love. (For five days every November, I make it available for free in Amazon’s Kindle Store.) Over the years the ebook has even had some strange adventures of its own. The day after I published it, I’d discovered that my turkeys had snuck onto Amazon’s list of the best-selling children’s ebooks about animals – and stolen the #73 spot from a book about Curious George!

And my friends surprised me one year by insisting that we all read the whole ebook out loud on Thanksgiving Day. They’d connected their widescreen TV to their computer, so it was mirroring whatever appeared on its desktop, and then they’d pulled up Amazon’s Kindle app on that computer, and led it to The Turkey Mystery Rhyme. It was a great way to get some real reactions to the story, especially since most authors never get to actually be in the room while their ebook is being read! And then we all took turns reading the rhyming story out loud.

“For Thanksgiving, try this game. Find the guilty turkey’s name…”

I remember we had a teenager in the room, and his mother asked if he knew which turkey had launched the daring plan for escape. But that mother was a sharp cookie, and she challenged one of the book’s important fictional premises.

Fearing folks on every street
hungering for turkey meat,
In the farmer’s yard’s a spread
where Thanksgiving turkeys bred.

When the daylight brightly broke
all the farmer’s birds awoke.
And, since it’s a holiday,
all turkeys can talk today…

“What?!!” she said, to laughter from the room. “Since when can turkeys talk on Thanksgiving Day?”

Everyone knows that,” I joked. “You’ve just never been on a farm…” And then we laughed some more, and continued reading…

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Read the free rhyming Thanksgiving turkey mystery at

The Great Pig Escape by Eileen Christelow

The Great Pig Escape by Christelow

It’s based on a true story – just like Steve McQueen’s “Great Escape” – but with pigs! According to the book’s jacket, the author of The Great Pig Escape read a story in the Cedar Rapids Gazette about a farmer who was taking his pigs to a livestock auction, and discovered they’d all escaped from the back of his truck. (“After the farmer discovered his loss, he retraced his trip and found all of his pigs in various parts of town, miraculously unhurt.”) Author Eileen Christlelow saw potential for a good children’s book, but she also decided to make a few changes in the story.

Bert and Ethel live together on a farm, and one day Bert suggests that they raise pigs.  “Sounds like trouble to me,” says Ethel, but Bert buys six piglets anyways, and even Ethel admits that they’re cute. After a while, she’s the one who’s warning Bert not to hurt their feelings. She even shushes Bert when he says “Eight months from now they’ll be pork chops, so don’t go falling in love with them…”

And when Bert announces to Ethel that he’ll sell the pigs at the market the next day, she warns, “Sh-h-h! They’ll hear you!” Sure enough, all the pigs immediately stop slurping, and that night there’s some extra oinking in the pigpen. (“Sounds like they’re planning something,” warns Ethel…) Because Christlelow wrote and illustrated the book, she can hide extra jokes in the pictures. The next day Bert complains that he can’t find the bolt to lock his truck’s tailgate – but in the bottom corner of a picture, there’s a smiling pig prancing off with the bolt in his mouth!

It’s genuinely exciting when their big break-out comes. The pigs chew through the rope that Bert uses to tie the tailgate, and “As they bumped and rattled down the road toward town, the rope snapped… But Bert and Ethel didn’t notice.” When the couple stops for gas, two pigs scoot out and under a nearby fence. At each stop, more pigs scoot off into the scenery – and it seems like every pig has a smile on its face.

Christlelow’s simple, cartoon-like illustrations keep the story light, with just enough realism to make you root for the escaping pigs. Using watercolors and pen-and-ink drawings, she shows the farmer’s red truck, stopping for the blur of a speeding locomotive rushing past. At the edge of the drawing, two little pigs hop eagerly onto the road, and head off onto another farm. But by the end of the book, they’ve done something even more clever.

They’ve stolen clothes and disguised themselves – and then caught a bus for Florida!