Old MacDonald Had a Boat

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Old MacDonald Had a Boat Book Poster Image
New spin on old song when Old MacDonald retools his boat.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Names and uses of tools: saw, hammer, torch, sander. Safety goggles pictured. Farm animals pictured: pigs, goat, cow, sheep, chickens, duck, fox. Water sports pictured: water skis and jet skis. Lyrics of traditional song. Concept that you can rework the classics.

Positive Messages

If you want to fix up something old, you can use tools and figure out how to do it. After you put work into something, you get the reward of play. Everyone can work together for a common goal and project. Use safety goggles when you use power tools.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Old and Mrs. MacDonald are spry and active seniors. Mrs. MacDonald is as handy and confident with power tools as her husband. In fact, she's the one who gets the project started, backing up the truck with the boat, and he's the one who clumsily drops a hammer on his toe. They have a loving relationship, and work and play well together. Both are athletic on water skis at the end.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Old MacDonald Had a Boat is a sequel to the popular Old MacDonald Had a Truck, by author Steve Goetz and illustrator Eda Kaban. The text substitutes some new words in the classic song to create a new story, and in this one, the MacDonalds spiff up their old, slow motorboat, and build a ramp for water skiing. Though the MacDonalds, who have matching white hair and are equally handy with electrical power tools, start their morning sedately on the front porch, at the end of the day they put their newly powerful boat in the water and do tricks on water skis. It's empowering to see the female MacDonald working confidently with a buzz saw and blowtorch, and readers will enjoy turning this familiar song on its ear.

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Kid, 11 years old November 29, 2019

What's the story?

In OLD MACDONALD HAD A BOAT, Old MacDonald and the female MacDonald decide one morning to fix up their old boat. Working equally, they drive the boat up to work on it and use tools and paint to spruce it up. They also build a ramp to use with the water skis. They tow the ramp out with jet skis, and then take to the water and air on their water skis. After all the water fun, they end up back on their front porch, watching the sun set on a productive and fun day.

Is it any good?

There's lots of fun to be had in taking a familiar classic and giving it a new twist, and while Old and Mrs. MacDonald spiff up their boat, this old song gets a new shine as well. Author Steve Goetz says he came up with the idea for the first Old MacDonald book when his son began fooling around with the song and substituting lyrics, and the books reflect that kid sense of humor and spirit of silliness. It's very satisfying to see Old MacDonald's female partner every bit as active and handy with a power tool as he is, supremely confident as she saws, drills, and sands.

Most of the lyric substitutions flow effortlessly, though occasionally there's the slightly clunkier line when Goetz tries to squeeze a two-syllable O-rhyme onto the end of E-I-E-I-O.  But the new lyrics cleverly create a whole new story as the two rehab their old motorboat, and illustrator Eda Kaban makes sure to mine the humor. Old MacDonald and Mrs. MacDonald earn the name "Old" with telltale white hair, but they’re more than spry, and very assured around the tool shed. And since Old MacDonald was originally known for his farm, Kaban parades out the farm animals, who help tote wood, uncoil rope, and even drive the motorboat.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the switcheroos in Old MacDonald Had a Boat. How did the author change the song to make it new and different? What are the real words? Which are the new words?

  • Have you read any other books that take a classic song or fairy tale and switch it around? Do you think it's fun and funny when books do that?

  • Can you make up a new Old MacDonald story yourself? What would your switch be? Are there any other songs or stories you'd like to update?

Book details

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For kids who love picture books and funny stories

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