Ox-Cart Man

CALDECOTT MEDAL WINNER – 1980

Ox-Cart Man

Donald Hall, text

Barbara Cooney, illustrations

Viking Press, 1979

38 pp.

Age: 4+

Interests: history, farming, country life, self-sufficiency, seasons, American history, New England, folk art

Also by this illustrator: Miss Rumphius

The story of a family in the pioneer past who work all year in order to sell their wares in the Portsmouth market.

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 is the first sentence, and if it sounds like it’s starting in the middle of the story, it is. The story of the ox-cart man and his family is fully cyclical, rolling with the seasons and the crops. At the beginning we see them loading up the products of their labours – wool from the sheep, a woven shawl and mittens knit from the sheep’s wool, handmade candles, shingles and birch brooms, linen made from flax they grew, potatoes, apples, honey and honeycomb, turnips, cabbages and maple sugar… even a big bag of goose feathers. All the products of their farm and their hard work. In Portsmouth the man sells everything, even the bags, barrels, cart and ox, buys a few essentials (very few) and walks the long, ten-day walk home.

We then follow them through the ensuing winter and spring as they again work to store up enough food for themselves with enough left over to take to Portsmouth to sell in the fall. And, happily, there is a young ox in the barn and the ox-cart man starts to build a new cart…

Simple and charming, a true tale of self-sufficiency, hard work and the passing of the seasons. Barbara Cooney’s folk arty style is absolutely perfect for this story, and imbues it with both dignity and whimsy. I particularly liked the page in which the man kisses his ox goodbye. I also liked the fact that, along with some essentials, the man spends a little of his hard-earned money on a bag of peppermint candies, to be doled out through the winter as a special treat.

Just beautiful. A terrific story for talking about farming, or self-sufficiency, or simpler lifestyles, or the seasons, or the differences between then and now (mostly in the Accumulation of Stuff).

(This title at amazon.com)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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