Lynn: I think it’s sad that so few kids now have any real understanding, or even an acquaintance with farming and farm life. Children think food comes from grocery stores, and many adults seem to have an unconscious snobbery toward the people who put that food on the shelves.
Farming has always been hard work, but I would be willing to bet my vast blog earnings that very few people understand the role technology has played for the American farmer. Today’s farmers drive tractors that cost more than houses and contain computers that calibrate exactly how deep a furrow should be, as well as how much seed and nutrient need to be applied to specific coordinates in the field. Farming technology has a long history, and one of its most important contributions was developed by a man whose name is now synonymous with farm machinery, John Deere.
But as Tracy Nelson Maurer explains in John Deere, That’s Who! (2017), Deere’s first and most important innovation involved the humble plow. Deere was a blacksmith, not a farmer, but when he moved his business to Grand Detour, Illinois, he quickly learned about the problems standard plow blades had with the rich, thick soil of the Midwest: soil stuck to the blades, and sometimes broke them. Deere set out to design a plow that would wrangle this ornery soil. It took many tries, but eventually, Deere’s “singing plow” worked so well that soon the blacksmith’s business was humming along.
Maurer does a stellar job of depicting the problems Deere faced and the careful steps he took to come to a solution. Ideal for a STEM lesson, the clear strong text has a pleasing rhythm that makes it a terrific read-aloud for a primary classroom.
And the illustrations by Tim Zeltner knocked my boots off! Using acrylic on plywood and a combination of stains and glazes, his work immediately made me think of Thomas Hart Benton and the Depression-era muralists. The illustrations flow and swoop across the page with curvy hills, rivers, clouds, and plow-lines in the fields. There is a spacious feel to the design and a wonderful sense of movement to the pages that made this stand out from the crowd.
Excellent back matter includes a glossary, a page of additional facts about Deere and his company, and an extensive bibliography. John Deere’s plow design opened the vast heartland of this nation to farmers, and his story deserves to be told.
Cindy: I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I’ve been using nonfiction and biography picture books in my middle school for research project topics. The students enjoy a short introduction to a subject, see that even authors of picture books do research and document their sources, and have fun finding additional information, photographs, and other illustrative matter on these topics. Maurer and Zeltner’s book will be a great addition to my collection for all the reasons Lynn mentions above.