Thursday, October 20, 2011

Caldecott Medal Mania, 1980: Ox-Cart Man

Fall is the perfect season for introducing Ox-Cart Man, (1130 Lexile) written in 1979 by Donald Hall. The exquisite pictures were done by Barbara Cooney, for which she won a Caldecott in 1980.

In October he backed his ox into his cart and he and his family filled it up with everything they made or grew all year long that was left over.

This sentence graces the first page of a beautiful, lyrical glimpse back at 19th century New England farm life. We read how the ox-cart man and his family lived entirely off their land, selling their products every October in a marketplace located a ten-days walk away.

Fall finds the ox-cart filled up with wool from their sheep, mother's handmade shawl, mittens knitted by a daughter, linen they wove, birch brooms a son carved, maple syrup tapped from their trees, candles, shingles, potatoes from their garden, a barrel of apples, honey and honeycombs, turnips and cabbages, and a bag of goose feathers from the barnyard geese.

When his cart was full, he waved good-bye to his wife, his daughter, his son, and he walked at his ox's head ten days over hills, through valleys, by streams, past farms and villages until he came to Portsmouth and Portsmouth Market.

After he sells all his goods, including the wooden box he carried the maple syrup in, the barrel he carried the apples in, the bag he carried the potatoes in, along with his ox cart, his ox, and his yoke and harness, he buys some items for the family--an iron kettle, an embroidery needle, a Barlow knife for carving, and two pounds of wintergreen peppermint candies.

Next, the reader takes a journey through their gorgeous farm year, as they faithfully produce the same things all over again.

Peter and I, both farm-life lovers, swooned our way through every page of this exquisitely illustrated story. Mary, almost 5, and Beth, almost 3, both stay engaged with the pictures and content.

Barbara Cooney, one of my favorite illustrators, also illustrated and won a Caldecott for Miss Rumphius.

Here are some Barbara Cooney (1917-2000) quotes, taken from

  • On her grandmother and mother: "She gave me all the materials I could wish for and then left me alone, didn’t smother me with instruction. Not that I ever took instruction very easily. My favorite days were when I had a cold and could stay home from school and draw all day long.... She was an enthusiastic painter of oils and watercolors. She was also very generous. I could mess with her paints and brushes all I wanted. On one condition: that I kept my brushes clean. The only art lesson my mother gave me was how to wash my brushes. Otherwise, she left me alone."
  • On her graduation from Smith College: "I have felt way behind technically; and what I’ve learned I have had to teach myself. To this day, I don’t consider myself a very skillful artist."
  • On her travels: “It was not until I was in my forties, in the fifth decade of my life, that the sense of place, the spirit of place, became of paramount importance to me. It was then that I began my travels, that I discovered, through photography, the quality of light, and that I gradually became able to paint the mood of place.”
  • On her receiving the Caldecott Medal in 1959: "I believe that children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting.... It does not hurt them to read about good and evil, love and hate, life and death. Nor do I think they should read only about things that they understand.... a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. So should a child’s. For myself, I will never talk down to—or draw down to—children."
  • On her most favorite works: "Of all the books I have done, Miss Rumphius, Island Boy, and Hattie and the Wild Waves, are the closest to my heart. These three are as near as I ever will come to an autobiography".

Here are some teaching resources and other links for Ox-Cart Man:

Literature Unit from Ox-Cart Man

Teaching Economics with children's literature:  Ox-Cart Man

Ox-Cart Man Discussion Guide From

As-You-Read Activities:

Ox-Cart Man Progeny Press Study Guide

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