Saturday, October 13, 2012

Farmer Boys and Pioneer Girls (books for children)

Farmer Boys and Pioneer Girls
(books for children)

     Dean and I visited the Hans Herr House and Museum on Shnitz Day. Built in 1719 it is the oldest house in Lancaster and the oldest Mennonite meetinghouse still standing in America. The parking lot was over-full. Cars parked on the grass. I enjoyed the couple of hours we meandered. We meandered with interest from demonstration to demonstration and then sat down to hear and watch some blue grass players.

      In addition to feeling a little odd being without the company of offspring, I was taken aback (I could almost say “spooked”) when I overheard a mother ask her semi-circle of girls, “Where’s Nigel?” Not only is Nigel an uncommon name in these parts but it is also the exact phrase that once passed my lips to my girls about their little brother . . . often.

    These photographs were taken on Shnitz Day. My favorites are the girl hanging the washing and the red woven bedspread.
     Later, when we returned, stories of settlers came to mind – which gave me the idea to share them with you. Scroll along stopping at whatever catches your fancy. Our Nigel helped me add links for you. 

     When my children were young I chose this time of year to read aloud Ox-cart Man by Donald Hall. It ended up becoming an autumn family tradition. I find it a simple, somewhat poetic picture of early American rural life.

     Maybe it is the girl with her embroidery hoop in hand that endears me to its pages.

     This year I noticed something new about Ox-cart Man

Do you see (back a couple photos) how the book's cover depicts a blue oxcart? I had always assumed that the bright blue made eye-catching cover-art. That’s all. Seeing the blue covered wagon, however, at Hans Herr seemed too much of a coincidence. Lancaster, Pennsylvania is were the Conestoga wagon originates. Museums strive for accuracy –even with colors. Therefore, Barbara Cooney’s cover-art blue is likely to be accurate, too.

     Traveling in a Conestoga wagon is probably how Ann’s family left Gettysburg to settle further west in The Cabin Faced West by Jean Fritz. The pioneer girl you see pictured on the cover is Ann, the author’s great-great-grandmother. 

     Ann told the story to her children and children’s children. You’ll find out why her story is repeatable when you read to the end. Don’t peek. The book is short enough so you should be less tempted to leaf ahead. 

     The Cabin Faced West would brighten the study of American History (third grade reading level). 

     As a read-aloud it is marvelous for end-of-the-day de-stressing.

     Who traveled from east to west with apple seeds and tree seedlings? Johnny Appleseed. His name is John Chapman (1774-1845). He was born in Massachusetts. And although tall-tales may have sprung up about him, he is a real person with resilience and resolve who did steadfast acts of pioneering.

     The puny apples picked off the ancient apple trees at Hans Herr for Shnitz Day look just like the apples that grew on our old trees in Appleton, Maine (and those in Lessons at Blackberry Inn). From our spotted and dimpled apples my girls decided to make applesauce.

     The best use of a bumper crop of little apples is cider making. Mashing apples into juice for cider results in mounds of apple cores. Inside the cores are seeds.  Johnny Appleseed could have the seeds for free. This sparked the idea to start an apple seedling business from them. He traveled on foot from farm to farm helping families plant orchards on their homesteads. 

     The Sower Series is a set of biographies that does not skim over a person’s relationship with Christ. Because I have read several titles from this series and found them excellent, I can safely say that Johnny Appleseed by D. Collins is worth looking into for ages 10-14, although I haven’t read this particular title. 
     I've read Who Was Johnny Appleseed? by Joan Holub and found it pleasant and informative. Its simple text and cheery line drawings make it suitable for an average third grade reading level. 

     At Hans Herr one demonstrator made an apple pie and baked it in a brick oven. That same week Yolanda told me that she tried a new technique with “Grandma Opal’s Apple Pie” from 

     Fill a pie shell with chunks of raw apple. 
     Cover with lattice. 
     While a pot of caramel (butter and brown sugar) on the stovetop is still hot, pour it through the lattice and bake. 

     Yolanda was happy at how her pie turned out and I’m sure her husband was, too.  

     Three features make A Pioneer Sampler by Barbara Breenwood an inviting history resource.

     1.  It has a story to it.

     2.  It is chockfull of drawings. 

     3.  It offers instructions for “hands-on” projects.  

The Robertson family (fictional) is never in want of something to do. They start the year with maple sugaring. Fields are cleared, potatoes are planted, cows start giving milk, and bees start making honey. Sheep are sheared, wool is spun, and cloth is woven.

Summertime visits from nearby Indians, the cobbler, the peddler, and the itinerant preacher, make the Robertson’s life more interesting as do the girls’ trips to the general store and post office. Mr. Robertson and his sons fish and hunt. Most impressively they build a two-story timber frame house.

By autumn the family moves out of their log cabin and into their new house. They make ready for winter with a corn husking social, by threshing wheat, drying apples, preserving meat, making candles, and splitting firewood.

The year ends with Christmas traditions, bread baking and a shadow puppet show. One project is a punched tin sconce made from pie plates. You might choose cheese making, cloth dyeing, candle dipping, stenciling, or the threading together of a jumping-jack puppet. 

A Pioneer Sampler would be a good accompaniment to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy - a peek into the childhood of her husband, Almanzo Wilder. Almanzo is nine years old at the beginning of the story – the youngest in the family. Their days in New York State were full of multi-skilled chores from sunrise to sunset - similar to the seasonal chores listed above. It’s been decades since I read Farmer Boy aloud but I can still picture its episodes as if I had watched a film. And how could I forget the parlor wallpaper incident? 

On page 136 of A Charlotte Mason Companion I mention Farmer Boy as a useful book for ushering in a narration. My quiet child found it difficult to narrate from Little House - On the Banks of Plum Creek. Frankly there is not much happening in this book. I put it aside and replaced it with Farmer Boy. It did a better job of “feeding” her imagination.

     My word “feeding” has a double meaning because anyone who has read this book aloud can attest that the book is mouth-watering. All those delicious meals made from scratch and cooked on a wood-burning stove, minutes after the fruits and vegetables were picked from the garden, put a giggle in us both as my daughter narrated. Our stomachs growled. Eventually I scheduled this to be our last lesson of the morning so we could make lunch directly afterwards. Isn’t it nice how home education allows a family to be flexible?

Happy Reading

A favorite pioneer girl of my daughter's is Caddie Woodlawn. My review of the book it is on this post. 

Comments are Welcome,
Karen Andreola 


  1. ahhh brought back memories of our homeschooling days when kids were young. I haven't seen A Pioneer Sampler before - looks a wonderful book!
    I'm a fan of Barbara Cooney's work
    Love Leanne

  2. Karen, lovely post! We are currently on Farmer Boy as a read aloud. We have finished the whole LHOTP series, and are hungry for more pioneer themed books. This is a great list!!! Thank you, and thank you for sharing the lovely pictures. :)

  3. I so enjoyed this post...sounds like a wonderful place to visit...thanks for sharing the books.I think I would enjoy those myself :) Blessings

  4. You have made my heart sing today! Ox-Cart Man sits on our hearth from the end of September through the Thanksgiving period. I am drawn to the descriptions of hearth and home combined with hard work and planning ahead. Planning ahead is not my best quality, so I am always looking for books and stories that encourage me in that area.

    My two nieces enjoy Ox-Cart Man each fall season. I look forward to showing them the Conestoga wagon here on your blog. I'll have to call my children and tell them to take a look as well. Who knew they really were/are blue?!

    Sometimes I imagine paring our household down to fit in one of those wagons. It's an interesting exercise that I hope to never have to make a reality.

    I've always wanted to take one of those "vacations" where you travel across the prarie in a covered wagon. My family drew the line with a resounding, "NO!" I suppose they are right. The romance of it all draws me in. The reality would surely have been harsh in many ways. I still draw inspiration from those men and women.


  5. What joy it must have been to visit and enjoy the way life used to be. But I find myself doing some of those things now... :) I don't make cider, but I do get the puny apples and make sauce...a friend is teaching me how to weave on a loom and I already sew by hand... butchering and such was done when I lived in South America, so in a way, pioneering never seems to truly leave us. Good thing!

    Thank you for sharing Karen and for stopping by the cottage...


  6. What a neat place! Thank you for sharing.

  7. I JUST read The Ox Cart Man last week! :) I placed it in our new to us "season's reading basket" idea borrowed from more than one blog etc...soon, I will fill it with winter favorites and Christmas stories...

    We LOVED the Pioneer Sampler the last time I got it from the library...thanks for the reminder. We will have to peek at it again.

    Funny thing, we are ALSO reading Farmer Boy! :-)

    I can't wait to look for The Cabin Faced West!

    Always love peeks at the adventures you and your hubby have! And I understand the name surprise with with your Nigel...Phoebe isn't very common. (yet) ;)

    Happy Saturday evening, Karen!

  8. Thank you for this posting Karen. Having raised our children in the Mennonite Church (Amish Beachy) we also enjoyed many of these same activities or should I say necessities.We canned our pickles,jellies,tomato and applesauce,etc...While it is now just hubby and I,the children are grown,married and on their own,we still enjoy "putting up" what we can.It is a blessed time together round the hearth.Bless you for sharing...Dawn E. Brown ps...planning to look up these delicious books...

  9. Can you believe that we live so close to Hans Herr house, but we have never been there? That fest looked like a lot of fun.

    I like your list of books - especially Farmer Boy and The Cabin Faced West.


  10. This post was a fun read. I have read and loved some of the books and some I have wanted to read and haven't yet. I am now going to have to search out The Ox Cart Man. It had been on my wish list for a long time. But sadly I hadn't gotten to read it yet. I think I will get it any ways and then lay it around for the boys ( who might think they are too old) to read and then have it around when I am a grandmama.

    Ohh btw I am still going to send that package. Life has been full and need to block out some time to pull it together.

    Blessings my friend
    In Him<><

  11. What a wonderful trip down memory lane this was for me, dear Karen. :) We're studying American history this year and next, and I'm so enjoying the nostalgia of pioneer days with my two youngest. Thankfully, my 14 year old son still likes doing the crafty-type activities that go so well with this time period; my 12 year old daughter is loving it. Incidentally, she just started reading the Little House series! I'm planning to check out a couple of the books you recommended (Johnny Appleseed & A Pioneer Sampler) -- such fabulous prices over at CBD!

    I'm glad to read that you and your dh enjoyed your day even though you were "without the company of offspring." :) How precious for your children to see that you truly loved all the things you did with them by continuing to do them now. What a sweet testimony it is to them (and your grandchildren!).

    By the way, I enjoyed listening to your Mother Culture cd and have actually listened to it a couple times. Tears and laughter! Thank you for speaking such encouragement from your heart. I plan to order a second copy soon so I can share with my friends (without risking losing my own copy!).

    Many blessings to you and yours,

    Lisa :)

  12. We loved all of these books! I may just read them again for ME! They encourage me to be productive!

  13. Oops! I haven't read The Cabin Faced West...yet!