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16 May 2017 JOHN DEERE, THAT’S WHO! by Tracy Nelson Maurer and Tim Zeltner, ill., Henry Holt, March 2017, 40p., ISBN: 978-1-62779-129-8


“Gone are the days when the ox fall down,

he’d take up the rope and plow the fields around.”

-- Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, “Brown-Eyed Women” (1972)


“The aim of ploughing is to scoop up an 8” deep by 12” wide piece of earth and turn it over 180 degrees, burying any crop residue or weeds in the process. This results in loosened soil which can be made into a seed bed.”

-- Tecwyn Twmffat, “How to Plough or Plow a Field -- Basic Instructions”


Have you ever plowed a field?


I grew up in what had recently been potato fields. But the farmers had sold out to the developers and our parents had planted us Boomer kids in a newly-sown suburbia. It was a novelty to visit one of the remaining farms, scattered here and there, and buy a Halloween pumpkin or see a few barnyard animals.


Along with numbers of other suburban kids, I got caught up in the 1970s Back-to-the-Earth movement. And so it was, that I found myself on a big tractor, learning by trial and error how to plow a field. Frankly, the process of plowing one long furrow, turning around, and plowing another one next to the previous one made me restless. I learned to scribble down some lyrics and tape them to the steering wheel so I could work on memorizing songs while putt-putt-putting back and forth across the field.


The experience taught me a real respect for the talented and patient men, women, and farm kids who, year after year, plow the fields and grow the grains and produce that I consume.


That long-ago farm experience made me excited to find what is a wonderful picture book about John Deere, the name synonymous with the green tractors.


“The town’s families gathered at a local farmer’s field to watch John test his gleaming ‘self polisher.’

They didn’t expect much.

But who amazed them all?

John Deere, that’s who.

Stories of the day claimed he dug twelve rows, neat as you please!

Many farmers were still leary

John built several plows for farmers to try in their own fields.

Test after test, John’s smooth steel plow cut so quickly and easily, it truly hummed down the rows. In time, customers began asking for Mr. Deere’s ‘singing plow.’”


It turns out that John Deere lived and died before the advent of the green tractors that bear his name. Instead, he was a craftsman, blacksmith, and successful businessman who developed a steel plow that was an improvement on what had come before.


In JOHN DEERE, THAT’S WHO!, Tracy Nelson Maurer’s breezy narrative style makes this well-researched picture book biography sing like John Deere’s plows.


Tim Zeltner’s illustrations are created using acrylic, stain, and glaze. Looking closely, you see subtle cracks in the illustrations, giving them an early-Americana sensibility. The style is particularly ideal for highlighting the freshly-plowed earth which is sometimes seen close up and, at other times, appears as curving, contoured hillsides. The fields are accompanied by incredibly beautiful skyscapes.


There is so much in this story to talk about and expand upon: Iron versus steel. Horses versus petroleum-fueled engines. Innovation and business.


In the course of teaching little kids about where their food comes from, JOHN DEERE, THAT’S WHO! will be a lively and enlightening addition.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Pickshttp://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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