Lisa Ripperton

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Introducing Chapter Books: Farm Stories

by Lisa Ripperton
February 14, 2019

This on-going series – Introducing Chapter Books – is intended to highlight books that are ideal for families who are just beginning to read chapter books aloud with their children. In our experience we have found that children are typically ready to undertake the challenge of listening to stories without illustrations on each page around age five, and all of the books mentioned in this series have been selected with this age and purpose in mind. A later series will discuss books to use when your child is transitioning to reading chapter books independently.  

In introducing children to chapter books, we recommend reading aloud THE SANDMAN: His Farm Stories by William J. Hopkins with children who have already enjoyed Ox-Cart Man, the nationally-beloved picture book written by Donald Hall and illustrated by Caldecott Medal winner Barbara Cooney. Those children who love the simple story of the New England farmer who loads his ox-cart at harvest time with goods his family produced that year, takes them to sell at market, then walks home with coins jingling in his pocket, are primed to hear stories that offer more information about the process of growing products for market. His Farm Stories by William J. Hopkins provides 21 detailed stories of that sort, making it an excellent book to follow Ox-Cart Man and an ideal first chapter book for young readers to listen to.

What makes His Farm Stories a great choice for younger listeners?

In each chapter the author recreates a familiar world that children will recognize with excitement. Every story begins in the same way,

Once upon a time there was a farm-house, and it was painted white and had green blinds; and it stood not far from the road. In the fence was a wide gate to let the wagons through to the barn. And the wagons, going through, had made a track that led up past the kitchen door and past the shed and past the barn and past the orchard to the wheat-field.

setting the scene for the story and beckoning the young listener to follow along.

And every story ends the same way, “And that's all.”

In between we encounter the same characters in this three-generation household ─ Uncle John, little John, Aunt Deborah, Uncle Solomon, and Aunt Phyllis ─ going about their daily business on the farm, doing work that varies with the seasons. Each chapter, focusing on a single activity, is a complete story, independent from what came before and what follows after. Episodic stories such as these enable the young listener to enter fully into an individual chapter, with no need to keep a more involved plot line in mind.

How does the author depict farm life and its seasonal activities?

On this 19th century farmstead, where virtually everything the family eats, they produce themselves, we witness the cooperative efforts of all members of the three-generation household. In many of the stories we hear about Uncle John and Uncle Solomon working in tandem to do strenuous outdoor labor, while in others, Aunt Deborah and Aunt Phyllis take turns churning butter and preparing meals. Even little John shares in the chores: driving cows to and from pasture, gathering eggs, sorting apples, raking hay, and tagging along and helping as he is able. The loading of the ox-cart for market requires the effort of all, including the faithful team of oxen who are indispensable assistants in the heavy work of the farm.

An immense amount of detail emerges in these simple stories of farm life. In the story about corn, for example, we hear how Uncle John used oxen to plow a furrow, and then harrow it, before teaming up with little John to poke holes in the ground and plant the seeds. When the corn is ripe, they strip the ears of corn off the stalks one day, then rub the kernels off the cob the next (saving the cobs to use in starting fires). Some of the corn they set aside for seed for the following spring, and some to take to market, taking the remaining sacks of corn to the mill to have it ground, eventually to be made into johnnycake in another story.

The author crafted these stories over a period of three years by telling them to his young and highly inquisitive son. Commenting on the editorial support his son provided, he says, “The detail, which may seem excessive to an older critic, was in every case ─ until I had learned to put it in at the start ─ the result of a searching cross-examination. If the bars were not put up again, the cows might get out; and if the oxen did not pass, on their return, all the familiar objects, how did they get back to the barn?”

His Farm Stories

​​​​​Twenty-one stories of the everyday doings of Little John around the farm: fetching water, grinding corn, making cider, growing wheat, boiling maple syrup, and so on.
Ages 5-8

What will children take away from His Farm Stories?

Different children will take away different ideas from His Farm Stories and its sequel More Farm Stories. Some children may marvel at the long sequence of steps involved in producing foods that today they can easily purchase at the grocery store. Others may be fascinated by the technology ─ the elaborate mechanical systems devised to saw logs, press cider, and grind grain. Still others may be more interested in how life was different without running water, electricity, or motor vehicles. Yet another group, captivated by the images of the countryside in Ox-Cart Man, may be called upon to imagine in their mind’s eye what this particular farm looked like at every season, where the fields and orchard were situated in relation to one another, how the tools, feed, and animals were arranged inside the barn, and so on.

More Farm Stories

Twenty-one more stories about Little John working and playing on the farm, engaged in such activities as tending animals, growing corn, and chopping wood, or fishing, skating, and sledding.
Ages 5-8

What ages are the Farm Stories books best for?

The author used them with his young son from ages 4 to 6, who, he reported, “has heard them repeated many times, and his interest has never flagged. As the farm stories slowly grew in number, they entirely displaced the other stories.” But if the stories don’t strike a chord with your child at 4, be sure to try again when they are a year older.

How can you support your children's interest in olden times?

If His Farm Stories resonates with your children, you can further their interest by visiting living history museums. Our own family made a regular practice of doing just that. We visited the Frontier Culture Museum in the Shenandoah Valley of western Virginia several times, as well as Old Sturbridge Village in central Massachusetts, not far from where His Farm Stories takes place. Nothing beats the opportunity to see the threshing of wheat, the hackling of flax, and the baking of bread in a brick fireplace in person, especially with a knowledgeable docent at hand to field your child’s every question!

Purchase Books at Amazon

THE SANDMAN: His Farm Stories
by William J. Hopkins

THE SANDMAN: More Farm Stories
 by William J. Hopkins

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​Get Ebooks

​Get access to the ebook editions of ​​THE SANDMAN: His Farm Stories and ​​THE SANDMAN: More Farm Stories by purchasing the Yesterday's Classics Ebook Treasury, Volume 1

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Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss

by Lisa Ripperton
February 7, 2019

In our family reading over the years, we noted that a handful of stories stood far above the rest in almost every collection of fairy tales we read aloud together. We often wished that we had all the best stories from different collections together in one volume. So, after my children were all grown, I decided it was finally time to begin the project that had been in the back of my mind for two decades: to create a series of anthologies of the very best fairy tales to be enjoyed at different ages.

In a process that grew far beyond our original plans and took years to complete, this series became our Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss collection. Although we initially envisioned creating a single volume of 36 stories for each age, we found that there was more than enough material to prepare a second volume for each age, too! So ultimately, we compiled 12 volumes of stories, with 2 volumes for children of each age between years 5 and 10. (That’s 432 stories in all!)

In this rest of this post, you can read all about our quest to find the very best stories – or Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss – and what we’ve learned about selecting fairy tales to read aloud with your children along the way. Even if you don’t ever read our collections, we trust that the sources and guiding principles we used will help you in your own search to discover exceptional fairy stories from around the world.

What criteria were used for selection?

Many years ago at my son’s Waldorf School, Joan Almon, coordinator of Alliance for Childhood and retired Waldorf kindergarten teacher, gave a presentation on choosing fairy tales for different ages. That night she not only shared a list of fairy tales suitable for different ages, but also offered some guiding principles that have informed my work in this area ever since. Those principles are as follows:

  1. Setting. The more familiar a setting, the younger the child the tale is suited for. Tales with unfamiliar settings, or tales that shift from one setting to another are better suited for older children.
  2. Mood. Tales for younger children should be light-hearted and cheerful. Tales in which characters suffer sorrow or grief are more appropriate for older children.
  3. Problem or obstacle. In a story for young children, the problem or obstacle should be simple and easily overcome. For older children, problems and obstacles can increase in number and complexity. The more ominous and dangerous the task, the older the child should be.
  4. Complexity. Simple stories that have few characters and unfold in a predictable manner are better suited for younger children, while stories with complicated plots, numerous characters, and unexpected happenings should be reserved for older children.
  5. Length. In general, stories for younger children should be shorter. However, longer length stories with a lot of repetition, such as the tale of Henny-Penny, are not problematic. While stories for older children may be short, the stories with more challenging obstacles typically take longer to reach a conclusion.

Another one of the criteria we used in selecting fairy tales for inclusion is that they should be wholesome stories, in which good is rewarded and evil punished. Several exceptions were made for well-known tales such as Puss in Boots and Big Claus and Little Claus. However, such stories were deliberately placed in collections for older children when discernment about good and evil is keener.

Where do the stories come from?

We found an invaluable resource in STORIES: A List of Stories to Tell and Read Aloud, a pamphlet compiled by storytellers at the New York Public Library, as well as in similar volumes from the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh and the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. Collectively, these sources listed hundreds of the fairy tales, fables, and legends that were beloved by storytellers and audiences alike. The stories we ended up selecting came highly recommended by scores of seasoned storytellers, and in this project, we feel privileged to have stood upon the shoulders of giants.

Well over half of the fairy tales in this series were collected in Europe in the 19th century by folklorists such as the Brothers Grimm (German), Asbjornsen and Moe (Norse), and Joseph Jacobs (English, Celtic), with a smattering of stories coming from Japan and India. The earliest were those published by Charles Perrault (France) in 1697. A surprisingly large number of the stories are literary fairy tales, including stories from Hans Christian Andersen, Howard Pyle, Dinah Maria Mulock, John Ruskin, George MacDonald, Andrew Lang, Wilhelm Hauff, Frances Browne, and Rudyard Kipling.

How are the collections illustrated?

Each volume includes both color and black and white illustrations, and the illustrations in the Fairy Tales Too Good To Miss series are as diverse and captivating as the stories themselves. In preparing this series, we pored over illustrations from all around the world, with many illustrations coming from the U.K., some from Germany, and even one from South Africa, but with the bulk originating in the U.S.

Among the illustrators whose work is represented in the collections are Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle, Jessie Willcox Smith, Walter Crane, Anne Anderson, Margaret Tarrant, Frederick Richardson, and L. Leslie Brooke.

How do I know which age each book is intended for? And what if my child is developmentally out-of-sync with his age?

The suggested ages are given in the description of each book but not in the titles or anywhere in the volumes themselves, so you can move through them at a pace that suits your child and their individual reading and listening abilities, and they will be none the wiser.

Is there any difference between the two volumes for an age?

No, there is not. One might assume that the best stories are all in the first volume, with the second containing just the “left overs,” but this isn’t the case at all! We purposely put some of our very favorite stories in each volume, and arranged the stories in a careful sequence so there is a good variety for those reading straight through.

When is the best time to read these stories?

With 36 stories in each volume, there is a story for each week of the school year, beginning in the U.S. in late August and continuing until early June. The stories that have a strong seasonal component are sequenced so they will be read in the proper season (at least in the northern hemisphere), but if you’d prefer to jump around, any story may be read at any time!

Where and in what format are these collections available?

All 12 volumes are available for purchase as ebooks at Yesterday's Classics. Print editions are not currently planned.

A final note

We hope you have as much enjoyment in reading these fairy tales as we had in putting them together!

​Purchase Ebooks at Yesterday's Classics

First Set

Second Set
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