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Transitioning to Chapter Books: Farm Stories

by Lisa Ripperton

​February 14, 2019

This on-going series – Transitioning to 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 introducing your child 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?”

​THE SANDMAN:
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.

​THE SANDMAN:
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

Read Online

​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

​We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com.

Transitioning to Chapter Books: Among the Forest People and More

by Lisa Ripperton

​January 24, 2019

This on-going series – Transitioning to 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 introducing your child to reading chapter books independently.  

​Arousing your child's interest in the out-of-doors

There is no doubt that most five year olds have a natural affinity for animals. Clara Dillingham Pierson capitalizes on that interest in her series of nature books (Among the Meadow People, Among the Forest People, Among the Pond People, Among the Night People, Among the Farmyard People, and Dooryard Stories) with stories that awaken curiosity about and develop empathy for the creatures living in a particular setting.

​Imparting information through narrative

Each volume includes more than a dozen stories of animals that serve as a representative sample of its inhabitants. In a typical chapter in each of these books, the author sets the stage and introduces the animal characters, then lets the story unfold through the conversations the creatures have with each other, or thoughts they voice to themselves, with only an occasional explanation inserted by the author. The conversations are engaging and full of good humor, with much information shared in a friendly way.

As the animals are recounting why they act the way they do, or what functions their various body parts serve, the listener absorbs many details about animal behavior and physiology. It may be a hen explaining to her chick that he ​must ingest gravel to grind the grain he eats or an earthworm asserting that it is ​best to live in the earth because it is warm in winter and cool in summer.

Dooryard Stories

​​Around the dooryard nest all sorts of birds, including flickers, robins, sparrows, wrens, swifts, and blackbirds. These stories convey some of the drama that arises in the garden as birds go about the business of building nests and raising young. The author's cat Silvertip figures in a number of the narratives as do a number of other mammals and insects. Invites children to 'see how many tiny neighbors you have around you, and how much you can learn about them.'   Ages 5-7

​Encouraging good behavior

Many of the chapters focus on the forming of a family group ─ pairing off, building nests, raising young ─ with the story turning on a problem that arises in the course of those activities. It may involve differing views on where a nest should be placed, or what to do when their offspring test boundaries or quarrel among themselves. Children will likely recognize that similar forces are at work in animal families as those they experience growing up among their brothers and sisters. Other stories deal with the introduction of a new inhabitant into a well-established community and the disruption that may bring ─ a newly-arrived peacock full of pride in his appearance, for example, or a mole disagreeable to all. Good behavior is always encouraged. All stories are concluded in a satisfactory way, with a gentle moral, implicit, but seldom expressed.

Among the ​Farmyard People

​​Introduces young children to the animals of the farmyard through a series of engaging stories about the sheep, chickens, cows, and horses that live there. With new animals arriving regularly, we make the acquaintance also of a pig and a peacock, as well as some ducks and guinea fowls. Each story closes with a gentle moral, inspiring children to ​good behavior.   Ages 5-7

​Stretching capacities for listening and picture forming

The longer chapters in these books, written at about the 4th grade reading level, will stretch your child's capacity for listening. Frequent use of conversation in the story will help to keep children engaged to the end.

With only a few illustrations in each volume, listeners will have to rely on their imaginations to form pictures of the animals and scenes described.

​Furnishing vocabulary for expression

Hearing unfamiliar words in context helps young listeners gain vocabulary for expressing their ideas.

Among the ​Meadow People

​Delightful stories of field life for young children, relating incidents in the lives of birds, insects, and other small creatures who make the meadow their home. Each chapter features the story of one animal in its daily activities and interactions with the other animals inhabiting the meadow.
Ages 5-7

​Stimulating desire to find out more

Hearing about all kinds of different animals, children will wonder which of these animals live where they do. Can they see them? Can they hear them? Can they observe them closely to find out more? Their firsthand observations may lead them in turn to want to read more about the animals they studied.

Adults can further development of their child's interests in the out-of-doors first by offering more outside time to their charges and then by locating additional reading material that matches their interests.

Among the ​Forest People

​​A charming series of nature stories for young children, including tales of red squirrels, great horned owls, rattlesnakes, and bats. No one can read these realistic conversations of the little creatures of the wood without being most tenderly drawn toward them. Within the context of each story children learn many interesting facts about the lives and habits of these little people of the forest.
Ages 5-7

​Use of naturalists' books

According to Charlotte Mason, "The real use of naturalists' books at this stage is to give the child delightful glimpses into world of wonders he lives in, to reveal the sorts of things to be seen by curious eyes, and fill him with desires to make discoveries for himself." (Home Education, p. 62)

Clara Dillingham Pierson's books serve these purposes well.

Among the ​Night People

​​Stories of animals of the night for young children, relating the activities of raccoons, skunks, moths, foxes, fireflies, and weasels. Since we can't understand animal language, the author depicts the animals talking to each other in English, but she does it so skillfully that you can imagine that they are using their own ways of communicating through voice and gesture.   Ages 5-7

​What to read first

You may want to choose the book to read first depending on the season, the setting, or the types of animals portrayed. Among the Meadow People, Among the Pond People, and Dooryard Stories are best read in the warmer months. Among the Farmyard People, Among the Forest People, and Among the Night People could be read anytime.

If you want to read mostly about birds, start with Dooryard Stories, featuring ten birds, or Among the Farmyard People, featuring eight. For mammals your best bets are Among the Night People and Among the Farmyard People, each of which showcases eight mammals. Insects and allies take center stage in Among the Meadow People. Among the Forest People covers birds and mammals. The greatest diversity occurs in Among the Pond People with a variety of creatures that live in or around the water represented.

Among the Pond People

​Presents the adventures of Mother Eel, the Playful Muskrat, the Snappy Snapping Turtle, and the other Pond People. These stories are full of humor, yet cleverly convey information about the frogs, minnows, and other pond residents and often suggest a moral in a delicate manner which no child could resist.
Ages 5-7

​Final notes

Fifty years ago informational books written in a narrative style used to be commonly available in public libraries. That is no longer the case. Most informational books published today rely heavily on large color illustrations with only snippets of text as captions to the illustrations. We recommend that you save these for use ​after introducing your children to animals through stories written in a narrative style and observing them personally.

Lastly, we're curious to learn more about how older children use the Pierson books in their independent reading. If your family has any experience with this, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

Purchase Books at Amazon

​Among the Meadow People
by Clara Dillingham Pierson

Among the Forest People
 by ​Clara Dillingham Pierson

​​Among the Pond People
by ​Clara Dillingham Pierson

Read Online

​Get Ebooks

​Get access to the ebook editions of ​Among the Meadow People, Among the Forest People, and ​Among the Pond People by purchasing the Yesterday's Classics Ebook Treasury, Volume 1

Purchase Books at Amazon

​Among the Night People
by​ Clara Dillingham Pierson

​Among the Farmyard People
 by ​Clara Dillingham Pierson

​Dooryard Stories
by ​Clara Dillingham Pierson

Read Online

​Get Ebooks

​Get access to the ebook editions of ​Among the Night People, Among the Farmyard People, and ​Dooryard Stories by purchasing the Yesterday's Classics Ebook Treasury, Volume 1

​We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com.
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