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Farmer Joe Baby-sits

by Nancy Wilcox Richards, Werner Zimmermann, illus.

Farmer Joe is a warm-hearted, simple soul, a lovable schlemiel who gets by with a little help from his animal friends and a very competent wife. The whole crew first appeared in Farmer Joe’s Hot Day (1987), followed by Farmer Joe Goes to the City (1990). In keeping with the other books in the series, Farmer Joe Baby-Sits begins with a brief introduction to the farm and our hero’s peculiar agricultural methods: this time, he plants corn by hammering the ears into the ground! Farmer Joe and Amelia Bedelia have a lot in common.

In his latest adventure, Farmer Joe and his charge, little Jennifer, amuse themselves on the farm until naptime – but her red blanket, a necessity for her nap, cannot be found. The rest of the book follows the two and their animal entourage as they search the farm for the blanket. Sharp-eyed readers will pounce on the teddy bear-like groundhogs carrying the blanket in every illustration. When poor Farmer Joe has despaired of ever finding it, and a tired Jennifer has curled up in the hay, the helpful groundhogs tuck the blanket around her. The romp through the farm winds down to a quiet ending.

Farmer Joe Baby-Sits is just as much fun as the earlier books. For the first time in the series, there are lovely endpapers showing an aerial view of the farm. (Only one design change is not an improvement: the shadowed typeface of the cover title is harder to read than the cleaner outlined face used previously.) Richards’ gently humorous story is nicely paced and a pleasure to read aloud. Every word counts. The “find the blanket” aspect of the book does not overwhelm the story. But it is Zimmermann’s zany sense of humour that makes this book and the series so delightful. His energetic, loosely drawn watercolours are full of laugh-out-loud visual jokes not in the text. The cheerful yellow/green and blue/purple palette, with a bright red for Jennifer’s blanket, is just right. His breezy style and affection for barnyard animals reminds me of the work of German author and illustrator Helme Heine. Zimmermann is certainly receiving more recognition for his work: he made the shortlist in 1996 for the Governor General’s Literary Awards for children’s illustration for Julie Lawson’s Whatever You Do, Don’t Go Near That Canoe! Next time I hope he wins.