Egan's (The Experiments of Doctor Vermin; Chestnut Cove) dignified animal characters tend to meet life's challenges with cool stoicism, despite the occasional urge to act silly. In this dryly funny story, the furred and feathered residents of Farmer Fred's barnyard likewise cultivate a dispassionate attitude: "The pigs, the cows, the horses, the chickens, the rabbit, the sheep. All extremely serious." Everyone, especially Farmer Fred himself, wears the determined, impassive gaze of the morning commuter. So much nonchalance bothers Edna the cow, who launches an initiative to make Farmer Fred laugh. The animals try absurdity after absurdity: they perform impromptu acrobatics, wear Groucho glasses and, in the pigs' case, bark like dogs ("That's more weird than funny," Farmer Fred shrugs). Farmer Fred turns out to be one tough customer, meeting the animals' shenanigans with steely, W.C. Fields-caliber resistance. Egan's deadpan voice delivers maximum comic value, and his muted watercolors convey the animals' combination of shyness and hilarity; a shift of the eyebrows or a slight tilt of the mouth can betray a long-suppressed sense of humor. Yet this tale has heart as well as high jinks. When the animals decide to run away from the problem, Farmer Fred hurries after them: "Sure I'm serious, but that doesn't mean you have to be," he says. "And, besides, we're family.... I need you." Egan acknowledges the awkward but heartfelt exchanges of affection that so often pass between family members, as his characters, initially distant from one another, reach a warm and realistic understanding. Ages 4-8. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
No smiles. No laughs. And, his animals think, no fun. Serious. That's Farmer Fred. Edna, the cow, Bernie, the goat, and all the other farm livestock believe life around the old homestead would be a lot more fun if Farmer Fred could smile and laugh. They develop one silly plan after another. One morning, Edna the cow stands on the fence and (attempts to) crow like a rooster. When Farmer Fred feeds them, the pigs bark like dogs. One evening, all the animals dress up in Fred's clothing and dance in the front yard for him. Plan after plan fails. No smiles. After weeks of discouragement, one night the animals leave to find a more fun place to live. When Fred awakens the next morning, the farm is empty and he feels sad. He drives the old farm truck to search for his animals. When he does find them, they tell him why they left and they all discuss the situation. Farmer Fred finally chuckles at the thought of his animals roaming through the woods. That cheerful sound convinces the animals there is hope and they return home. Fred smiles a little more now, "although he still doesn't see anything funny about corn." 2003, Houghton Mifflin Company, Ages 5 to 8.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-There's nothing funny about life on Farmer Fred's farm until Edna, the cow, decides that it's time for a change and convinces the other animals to try to get the man to lighten up. Edna climbs onto the fence and crows like a rooster, but Farmer Fred fails to see the humor. When the pigs bark like dogs, he finds it "more weird than funny." The animals dress up in his clothes and dance, but he doesn't even crack a smile. Discouraged, the creatures pack up one night and leave home. After searching high and low, the farmer finds them in the woods and has a serious chat with them about how friends and family solve problems and take care of one another. However, after giving the animals a talking to, he chortles under his breath at the notion of "Cows and chickens runnin' wild in the woods." The understated tone of the text is supported perfectly by the humorous ink-and-watercolor illustrations, from the serious countenance of Farmer Fred, mirrored in the animals' faces to their antics to his ever-so-slight smile. The author/illustrator dares his audience not to smile, but he can't be taken too seriously.-Carolyn Janssen, Children's Learning Center of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Egan will crack up even the dourest of readers with this devastatingly deadpan episode. Weary of life with Farmer Fred, who is given to pronouncements like, "Nothing funny about corn," a group of farm animals tries everything from circus tricks to dressing in his clothes in an effort to get him to lighten up. At last, discouraged, they sneak away. But Farmer Fred follows, coaxing them to come back with a barely perceptible "heh, heh," and the poker-faced warning that there are lions in the woods. Like James Marshall, Egan gives his simply drawn figures tiny, but wonderfully expressive eyes. Children may roll theirs-but here's a telling demonstration that a serious disposition isn't the same as a humorless one. Heh, heh. (Picture book. 6-8)
From the Publisher
"Egan's deadpan voice delivers maximum comic value, and his muted watercolors convey the animals' combination of shyness and hilarity." Publishers Weekly, Starred
"Egan's offbeat, understated humor is used to good effect in the highly amusing text and art, and it's the skillful interplay between the two that makes this book so darn funny." Horn Book, Starred
"The chunky figures of both Farmer Fred and the animals...seem to invite the reader to mimic the expressions... Even the colorsteals, emeralds, brickish reds and clay pinksseem serious." The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
"The understated tone of the text is supported perfectly by the humorous ink-and-watercolor illustrations..." School Library Journal
Egan is a pro at conveying important life lessons with a light, comic touch; his emphasis here on talking out and respecting differences seems especially apropos in today's world. A welcome blend of depth and humor, no kiddin'.
The Five Owls, Starred