The Farmer and the Clown

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
The Farmer and the Clown Book Poster Image
Two strangers form an unlikely bond in sweet wordless tale.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Shows a bit of farm life: tilling the field, feeding the chickens and collecting their eggs, milking the cow. Shows a classic circus train and clowns in traditional clown makeup and costumes.  

Positive Messages

Be open to friendship. Be kind to someone in need of safety and comfort. Playfulness is good and may open up your heart and that of the person you're playing with. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The farmer is kind, compassionate, and openhearted. The little clown is polite and willing to pitch in with the farm chores. He gives the farmer a big hug when he leaves, communicating his thanks and appreciation, as well as his fondness for his host. The caring clowns on the circus train return to find the boy after they realize he's missing. 

Violence & Scariness

It's unclear if the tiny clown fell or jumped off the circus train. 

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Farmer and the Clown, by two-time Caldecott Honor Book winner Marla Frazee, is a captivating wordless story that traces the close bond that develops between an old man farmer and a young kid clown over the course of about 24 hours. Cute illustrations, gentle humor, and two irresistible characters make this a great choice for reading alone or aloud, at bedtime or anytime. 

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What's the story?

An older farmer with a long, white beard is working in his field when he sees something fall or jump off a passing circus train. Soon a small, young clown makes his way over to him and does some cheery clowning, then hugs the farmer's legs. The farmer holds the boy's hand and walks him to his home, where he lives alone. They have a meal and wash up, and the farmer puts the clown to bed. In the morning, the farmer does his own clowning tricks to amuse the boy, feeds him, and then takes him to the barn and field to help with the chores. The two head off for a picnic but see the circus train coming on the horizon. The farmer returns the boy to his clown family, but before the train pulls away the little clown runs back and gives the farmer a big hug. In a subtle touch, they switch hats (the farmer walking back in the tall, pointy, red conical one). The final twist: Unbeknownst to the farmer, the circus monkey is now following him home.

Is it any good?

This is an utterly charming wordless tale that shows the sweet friendship that blossoms between the little clown and the white-haired farmer. The little boy learns about work and life on the farm, and the farmer opens up to his unexpected visitor and taps into his playful, childish side. 

Author-illustrator Marla Frazee uses an earthy palette -- except for the baby clown's bright red onesie -- that's perfect for the wide-open-plains setting. She deftly conveys the growing bond between the two and imbues both characters with clear personalities. It's very touching but not sappy. Brilliantly achieved in all ways. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about wordless books. Is it easy to follow the story when there aren't any words? How do you know how the characters are feeling? Can you see it in their faces or their whole bodies? 

  • Are you surprised that the farmer knows how to goof around to amuse the little clown? 

  • Is the farmer happy or sad in the end? 

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