Monday, February 02, 2015

Hey wait, I thought I hated clowns!

The Farmer and the ClownThe Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Published by Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2014)

Okay, I have to get this out front - I really dislike clowns. I’ve always found them creepy and not a bit funny. But with this sweet and touching picture book, author/illustrator Marla Frazee has just but a small dent in my opinion of clowns. The little clown in her wordless picture book, who gets separated from his family when he falls off of their circus train, is probably the cutest clown ever. His simple makeup consists of a plain white face, a relatively small red nose and a painted-on smile. When he’s found and taken home by a stern-looking farmer and washes off his make-up, we see underneath a worried and sad expression - the look of a lost child.

This book is all about finding a home, learning to feel at home, and the very essence of what home is. It could just as easily be the story of a refugee taken in by strangers, or about the adoption of a child. However you want to look at it, it’s a sweet and charming book. Considering that this is a wordless book, the author does a wonderful job of developing her characters. The farmer starts off seeming very stern and no-nonsense. Just from the expressions the author/illustrator has given him, we can see he is completely perplexed by this strange little person in a clown suit. But after the little clown washes off his make-up, we see from the farmer's facial expression that he is concerned about this lost child who he has brought into his home. Over the course of just a few pages, we see the farmer, while trying to make the sad child smile, loosen up and develop an affectionate bond with this little person. Along the way, each of the characters learns something new from the other. The farmer teaches the little clown how to milk a cow, while the little clown teaches the farmer how to juggle eggs. The farmer appears to be learning that all work and no play can make for a very dull existence. Marla Frazee conveys so much feeling and understanding in her illustrations with just changes in the body language of her characters and their facial expressions. This book is a great example of how to tell a complex story with no accompanying text.

I love how Frazee has used a limited color palette for her delightful illustrations. The farmer seems to exist in a world of soft sepia browns and charcoal grays. The little clown, dressed in reds and yellows brings color into the farmer’s drab existence. The clown’s suit really pops against the monochromatic backgrounds. More color is brought into the story when the circus train returns, bringing greens, blues, soft purples and oranges into the palette. At the end of this story, I had the feeling that the farmer had been changed forever by the little stranger who briefly became part of his life. And of course, without giving away the ending, the last illustration shows that the farmer’s adventures may not be quite over.

This book brought a smile to my face (the first time any clown has ever done that!) and I found it sweet and touching. I highly recommend this one!

Illustration by Marla Frazee. The farmer approaches the little clown who has fallen from the circus train.

Illustration by Marla Frazee. Underneath his make-up, the clown is a sad, lost child.

Illustration by Marla Frazee. The Farmer tries his hand at juggling and the clown helps the farmer in the fields.

Illustration by Marla Frazee. A happy reunion, but the story is not quite over yet.

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