The Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee is a wordless picture book with artwork done in black prismacolor pencil and gouache. The story starts right at the title page as a baby clown falls off a passing circus train only to be picked up by a very surprised farmer.
Varied page designs including full page illustrations, two page spreads and smaller panels draw readers through the story while also highlighting key scenes.
Frazee presents a fully realized narrative with her use of color and light throughout the book. In the beginning we see the Farmer’s world in neutrals with many shadows. Until a pop of color in the form of a young clown appears. From that point on the light and the color in the story shifts as the titular Farmer and Clown get to know each other.
Moving from day to night and back again (always with beautifully drawn changes in light) readers see the Farmer and the Clown get to know each other. Although this story is wordless, the themes of friendship and finding home remain permeable–particularly when the Clown’s makeup is washed off and we see the scared child underneath.
The real beauty here, the thing that makes The Farmer and the Clown so special, is that as a wordless picture book readers are able to bring a lot to the story with their own interpretations. Frazee gives readers all of the pieces they need but it is still up to the reader to get the Farmer and Clown to their happy ending.
The Farmer and the Clown is a truly delightful and often whimsical story. Large pages and bold illustrations make it ideal for group or one-on-one readings alike. I presented it at my library system’s Mock Caldecott (where it received the winning vote) and fully expect it to receive at least an honor at the actual Caldecott in February.
Because of the whimsy (and the clowns) this would pair well with Lester’s Dreadful Sweater’s by K. G. Campbell. The theme of friendship also brings to mind Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato.