Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Beautiful Book #29

A Farmer's Alphabet by Mary Azarian. David R. Godine, 1981.

Every few years I mount a book display outside the collection called, "Black and White and Re(a)d All Over." You'd be surprised how many illustrated books use this simple yet stunning colour combination. Key among them is Azarian's 1981, woodblock tribute to the agricultural history of New England. Yes, I know: yet another alphabet book on this list and yet another woodblock artist. I confess that both are weaknesses for me. But there are many reasons to love this particular alphabet. The design of the book is simple, effective, and as matter-of-fact as its subject matter; the paper it is printed on is thick and creamy, making the book feel anything but mass-produced; and the representation of rural life depicted on its pages is honest: sentimental without being reductive or saccharine.

Too often in children's books the word, "farmer," is synonymous with "man," as if Old MacDonald is the only lens through which a child is allowed to imagine rural life. Azarian depicts a broader reality. The work on her farm is shared equally by man and woman, and the children represented live in a world of play. The book is a tribute to the family farm and that feels historic today, but was perhaps more contemporary to the time in which the book was published. I spent part of my childhood on a farm like this one, and I can't help but wonder how many such farms have been lost in North America over the last 40 years.

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