Friday, June 6, 2008

Book Review: Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm, by Jerdine Nolen

Harvey Potter was a very strange fellow indeed. He was a farmer, but he didn't farm like my daddy did. He farmed a genuine, U.S. Government Inspected Balloon Farm.

Summary:
Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm is a delightful story that unravels the mysteries surrounding a strange farmer and his, shall we say, unusual crop. We learn all about Harvey Potter and his controversial balloon farm through the observations of a curious young girl. How did he do it? Was it magic, as some folks said? Or was it "real, actual balloons growing out of the plain ole ground?" There's only one way to find out...

Overview:
This book is an original tall tale, told in the tradition of good old front porch stories. Set in a southern rural farming area, the author gives authentic voice to the narrator, who chats with the reader in a right neighborly fashion. Given the remarkable story and breathtaking illustrations, it's no wonder Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm has won multiple awards, including a Notable Book citation from the American Library Association.
Roughly 11 inches tall and 9 inches across, the book is the perfect size for either a personal perusal or a raucous read-aloud. The pages are large and smooth and glossy, with just the right weight - not too sturdy, and not too flimsy. Nearly every page is drenched top to bottom and edge to edge with fantastic, full-color illustrations.

Illustrator Mark Buehner had done two other picture books previously, but this was the book that brought his work to the fore. Each page offers up story events from varying perspectives, pulling the reader right into the story - evoking an unmistakable feeling of actually being there. Color, light and shadow are all used to perfect dramatic effect, setting the mood of each scene and combining seamlessly with Jerdine Nolan's prose. And, look closely! He has hidden a rabbit, a t-rex, a cat, a chicken, a cow and a pig in each picture.

For Teachers and Librarians:
I can personally attest that the little guys just adore this book! I used it every year, in every grade I taught (K-3). It was frequently requested at read-aloud time, and the kids had a blast illustrating their own balloon farms as a follow-up activity. It fits well with units on nutrition (as a quirky aside on farming - and showing a bit of the planting process), fiction stories, fantasy stories, weather, magic... lots of possibilities here. But most of all, it is such a fun story. Without fail, the kids' favorite part was when the girl spied on Harvey Potter as he planted a new crop of balloons. I don't want to spoil the fun, so I'll just say that when you read this part aloud, really ham it up - and be sure to encourage them to join in!

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Here's a book that will grab the attention of even the most fidgety of kids. It is fun to hear read aloud, but not too hard to read on their own. The author speaks directly to the reader through the girl telling the story. They can't help but be drawn in, and the pictures are truly the icing on the cake. Watch as their little eyes get round with wonder. Listen as they giggle and laugh at Harvey's planting method. You may want to buy your own copy - it is sure to be an absolute and frequently requested favorite!

For the Kids:
This book is fun, fun, fun! Can you imagine: a balloon farm! Can people really grow balloons right out of the ground? And with so many shapes and colors and faces? You're going to want to check this one out, for sure. Don't forget to really look at the pictures closely: the illustrator hid a rabbit, a t-rex, a cat, a chicken, a cow and a pig on every page. Can you find them?

For Everyone Else:
This is just such an entertaining book. The pictures alone are enough to make it worth your while. The story will make you suspend your disbelief. A balloon farm... wouldn't that be great? Go on, let yourself dream a little...

Wrapping Up:
Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm is one of those books that just grabs you and pulls you right into the story. The writing is excellent, and the pictures are a delight. I highly recommend it!

Title: Harvey Potter's Balloon Farm
Author: Jerdine Nolen
Illustrator: Mark Buehner
Pages: 32
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publisher and Date: Lothrup, Lee and Shepard Books, 1994
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $16.99
ISBN-10: 0688078877
ISBN-13: 978-0688078874


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