November 01, 2003

Books for children.

Coatsworth, Elizabeth. Away goes Sally. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1967. Pictures by Helen Sewell.

Chapter 1 "The Salt Hay" has many well observed details of hay making in the marshes.

"Sally knew just where to look for Uncle Joseph and Uncle Eben and the three hired men, and quickly recognized their group from among the others at work. Uncle Joseph was leading the mowing with long steady sweeps of his arms, each ending in a sort of jerk, walking forward through a continual slow falling wave of grass and a hiss of steel on dry stalks. The other men had hard work to keep up with him. Uncle Eben had dropped behind and was honing the curved blade of his scythe.

"'To cut well, you must sharpen well,' he used to say with a sly wink at Sally. He was fat and lazy. He spent more time sharpening than cutting, but people liked to work with him because he was always jolly."

Coatsworth's fine short poem on the subject concludes the chapter.

Coatsworth, Elizabeth. The Little Haymakers New York: The MacMillan Company, 1949. Illustrated by Grace Paull.

The title tempted us to track down a rare copy of another Coatsworth book. Like Away Goes Sally, this too is about children working on a traditional New England farm, but, oddly, the only sign of haymaking is the field of cocks on the front cover, upstaged by the main characters in the story, two oxen named Neighbor and Nuisance.

Dean. Live Bale of hay cover art. Dean,Carol Shorey. The Live Bale of Hay: a real Maine adventure. Camden, Maine: Down East Books, 2004. Illustrated by Sandra Dunn.

There are lots of Maine haying details in this pleasantly illustrated book. "Wet hay mildews and gives the cows a bellyache." A barn burned down when " the hay was too green, and it was stacked too tight, the bales got all hot inside and burst into flames." Something called a "conditioning machine" which looks just like a tedder or side-rake, picked up the alfalfa with its "spinning wire prongs...tossing them in the air. The dried hay landed in neat trows, waiting for the baling machine to scoop it up. By afternoon the baler arrived, bouncing behind the tractor. On the front, it had metal fingers that combed up the loose alfalfa. as the hay was pressed together inside the machine, strong twine bound it into rectangular bales that moved down a conveyor belt, tumbling onto the ground. The bales of hay lined up like dominoes across the field. A evening approached...the big truck moved slowly across the field, and the men got busy lifting the heavy bales onto the truck body. Their last stop would be the barn, where the hay would be stacked and stored for the winter." The main "Maine adventure" occurs later that evening when the two young heroines mistake a bear for a bale.
Field of bales. Bear and bales. Bear and bales.

For more illustrations from this work, go to our hay database and check ID 4446-4450.

Haystack cover.Geisert, Bonnie and Arthur. Haystack. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1995. Illustrated by Arthur Geisert.

Several mysteries surrounded my discovery, on the last day of 2006, this extraordinary children's haystack book, published eleven years earlier. How could such a fine, award-winning story have evaded my attention for so long? How could the method of haystack construction and consumption which it depicts so persuasively also have escaped me? Where and when was hay pushed together into a rudimentary mound surrounded by a semi-protective fence which enabled cattle to nibble away the edges into concave scallops? How did the surface of this flat, low-slung stack shed the rain? When and where did the haystack, fence removed, serve as a protective shelter even as the cattle continued to consume it? Did cattle and pigs really munch the remains of the hay together and leave a stack of manure to be scattered as field-food at the beginning of the new growth cycle? I emailed the Geiserts, who evidently live in Illinois, to discover the source and context of their narrative but have yet to hear from them. A detailed response from Bonnie the author confirmed that the scenes and activity were indeed based on childhood memories and photographs from the family farm in South Dakota, although the pigs were a concession to the illustrator's career-long porcine commitment. The book is beautifully spacious in its horizontal layout, a wide double-screen of water-colored etchings which depict a landscape further west than the author's current home. The background motifs are vividly familiar to those who love the plains: endless railroad embankment underscoring the horizon; freight trains hauling agricultural products or equipment; and grain elevators, dwarfing a water tower and steeple, towering into dynamic skies, clear and cloudy, in every season and time of day. The farmsteads around the huge hay field are similarly specific and authentic, with, for example, trees in the windbreaks changing color with the seasons. But the central theme disconcerted me until its fusion of old and new technology were explained in Bonnie's letter. The tractor and its accessory mower, side-rake, buck-rake-stacker, and muck-spreader all have a modern feel; but the family pitching in, the clothes they wear, and the loose haystack itself seem timeless and nostalgic. Whatever its transitional reality in space and time, this engaging book has an air of epic truth.

Haystack and moon.Cattle sheltering from the snow.

Prairie Summer cover.Geisert, Bonnie and Arthur. Prairie Summer. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Illustrated by Arthur Geisert.

When I wrote to Bonnie Geisert to discover more information about the geographic setting of Haystack than was conveyed in the minimal text of that book for younger readers, she sent me a generous autobiographical essay giving me all the details I needed. She also referred me to Prairie Summer, published seven years later, for older readers. The narrative includes two vivid chapters describing hay-making from the perspective of a young girl on top of the stack. The work is not romanticized. Stacking is just one of several farm tasks inflicted on the heroine Rachel. Her failure to do any of them competently, at least in the eyes of her unforgiving father, give the story an unusual poignancy, and a tension which is not relieved until she is given the opportunity for genuine heroism in the final chapter. The haying details are precisely observed, especially the use of the "hydraulic hay fork" (very like, in form and function, the buck-rake of ranches further west) to heap and gather the windrows and dump large lumps of hay onto the stack for Rachel's sisters to spread with pitchforks. "The only tools [Rachel] needed were [her] feet and [her] weight to press the hay down." I remember this task both from my own childhood and from watching Olga Fat using her feet to compress a Romanian stack last September. "After the loads of hay were spread over the stack, my legs sank into the hay about halfway to my knees. Each time I trampled over the hay, I sank less into it. Trampling was easier when I didn't sink so far. The more the hay was packed, the more would fit into the stack. That's how Carol had explained it to me when I had asked once why the hay had to be trampled anyway. Dad was out of earshot, of course." [p. 52] When the side of the stack starts to taper in too much, the girls are criticized, and one of them mutters: "It's just a haystack, for heaven's sake... why does it have to be so perfect?" But haystacks, like beautifully constructed novels, deserve perfection.
Dad just can't stand to see me sitting.Wind-driven leaves and hay flecks stung my face.


Haas, Jessie. Hurry! New York: Greenwillow Books, 2000. Pictures by Joseph A. Smith.
Nora and Gramp and Gran work together to get the hay in the barn before a rainstorm. Several hay-making activities are vividly illustrated under a sky that goes from blue to white to gray to grayer: Nora on a horse-drawn tedder; Gramp on a horse-rake shaping the windrows; and all three characters on a wagon pulling a hayloader. A load ‘as big as the moon’ is rescued from the rain and is in the barn just as the rain starts. ‘The barn smells so sweet. All of summer is inside here. The rain patters, then it splashes, then it drums. It makes a silver curtain between the barn and the wide, green world.’

For more illustrations from this work, go to our hay database and check ID 1213-1216.

Mowing cover.Haas, Jessie. Mowing. New York: Greenwillow Books, 1994. Pictures by Joseph A Smith.

An earlier book on hay-making by the team who wrote and illustrated Hurry!
The central characters are a small girl named Nora and her grandfather. While Gramp cuts the hay with a horse-drawn mower, Nora runs beside him alerting him to wildlife: woodchucks; killdeer; a bobolink; and a faun. Gramp sacrifices a couple of patches of grass to the faun and a killdeer nest. ‘Some people would call that a pretty bad job of mowing, but we know better, don’t we?’

For more illustrations from this work, go to our hay database and check ID 1246-1250.

The wonderful hay tumble cover.Harris, Kathleen McKinley. The Wonderful Hay Tumble New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1988. Illustrated by Dick Gackenbach.

Evidently "hay tumble" is Vermont dialect for haycock. In this engaging fantasy, a poor farmer making hay on a steep mountain-side decides to roll his hay tumbles down to the ramshackle barn below. One tumble leads to another, growing like a snowball so large that it bounces over the barn. While tumbling the tumble somehow contrives to do all the farmer's chores: stacking sap buckets; pulling weeds; cutting and stacking logs; catching and cleaning trout; picking up stones and dropping them neatly into a wall; and lending gently on the wife's milk cart. "And that was the start of good fortune for the farmer and his wife." The haycocks and their dynamic passage down the hill are vividly painted by Dick Gackenbach.

He sat down and wept.He'd roll his hay to the barn.A little shove.

Like a giant snowball.Over the top of the barn.Rolled up all the stones.

Patterson cover.Patterson, Geoffrey. The Story of hay. Ipswich, UK: Farming Press, 1996.
With clear language and equally descriptive illustrations, Patterson traces the evolution of haying methods from the ‘pick thank’ and reaping hook to the mechanized equipment of today. Although the text is simple, its content is detailed enough to be valuable to adults with an interest in the history of hay. The pictures of mechanical processes are particularly fine, worthy of David Macauley. The conclusion is familiar: ‘From cutting to stacking, modern machinery helps the farmer to store his hay safely for the winter faster and with far less help than a hundred or so years ago.’

Carting hay in 1800. Patterson, p.11.Carting hay in 1980. Patterson, p.31.

Smith and Bennett cover.Smith, Nila B and Bennett, Elizabeth H. The Story of Hay. Silver Burdett Company, 1938. Illustrated by Evan A. Hart.
This elementary reader in the Unit-Activity Series is long out of print and now quite rare. Only one public library in the US appears to hold it (Allen County Public Library in Indiana); we were able to find a copy on ABE. Page 1 is typically succinct: ‘Cows and horses eat hay. Farmers make hay from grass and clover and other plants. The farmers cut the plants. Then the plants are dried in the sun.’

Hey Hay! cover.Terban, Marvin. Hey, hay! A wagonful of funny homonym riddles. New York: Clarion Books, 1991. Illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

The title is the answer to the riddle on page 13. ‘What do you shout to get the attention of cut and dried grass?’ But that one riddle and the cover illustration earn this book a place in our hay bibliography.
Hey Hay! p.13.

Posted by Alan Ritch at November 1, 2003 02:43 PM