Friday, November 1, 2013

The Big Red Barn

Our very "well-loved" board book version of Big Red Barn

It only seems appropriate to begin the reviews on this blog with the first book my first-born child fell in love with.

Big Red Barn, by Margaret Wise Brown, arrived in a package of little gifts on the day we got home from the hospital with Jay. I had never heard of the book before (and was too groggy to immediately connect Margaret Wise Brown to her other, better-known book, Goodnight, Moon). The gift came with a note saying that the giver's son loved it. Since the family who sent it lived in Vermont, it seemed an appropriate gift. I did not realize how phenomenal the book was until Jay & I began our bed-reading sessions three weeks later.

General synopsis:
It's a day on the farm, starting early, and ending with all the animals asleep while "the moon sailed high, in the dark night sky."

Who loves it:
All four of us. You can begin reading it to your child from birth, and Jay has yet to completely outgrow the book, at almost four years of age.

Why we love it:
Let me count the ways. First, there is the seemingly effortless rhyme and rhythm to the book. So many authors feel compelled to make children's books rhyme, but few do it well. The rhyme in this book never feels strained. It flows so naturally that it is hard not to read the book in a soothing, sing-song voice. Yet, it does not feel cheesy or sugar-coated. Just a nice, relaxing, happens-to-rhyme day on the farm.

Second, "but in this story, the children are away. Only the animals are here today." I get it. Kids like to see other kids in books...usually. But, the complete lack of focus on children, or the farmer, or any other humans really works in this book. It makes the barn and farm seem so relaxed, and very harmonious.

Finally, this book offers a great vehicle to work on animal sounds. If you read the book as often as we do (and I think you will), the pictures are very familiar. Some animal sounds are presented right in the text. For others, it's an opportunity to point to each picture and practice "mooing" and "neighing" and "cluck clucking" as much as you please.

The Verdict:
In the end, I think this is one of those books that should be on every shelf. I like Goodnight, Moon as much as the next person, but it is so common now. Parents often find themselves with multiple copies of it before their child is even born. But, to me, Big Red Barn is Margaret Wise Brown's real masterpiece. I cannot understand why bookstores stock one copy of it for every ten of Goodnight, Moon. This is the book we buy for every baby we know. I often include it in shower gifts, or welcome gifts, or, if I have been very lax, first birthday gifts. It is that good. I just don't want any child I know to miss out on this book. 

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