________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 21. . . .February 5, 2010.


The Gophers in Farmer Burrows’ Field.

Mike Boldt.
Tulsa, OK: Yorkshire Publishing Group (Order from www.boldtmanstudios.com or call 1-800-345-6665), 2009.
32 pp., hardcover, $15.99.
ISBN 978-0-88144-472-8.

Kindergarten-grade 4 / Ages 5-9.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.





Farmer Burrows was an ordinary farmer who had an ordinary farm. Ordinary that is, until the gophers moved into the field on the south side of the barn.

Unlike many other publications, CM will review self-published books. If you are a regular reader of this on-line publication, you may have noticed that rarely do most of the self-published books receive enthusiastic, positive reviews. Lacking true professional editing (and sometimes, it appears, not even copy editing to catch typos and grammar errors), most of these self-published titles simply do not match the quality of the products that are produced by “risk” publishers. However, happily, there are some delightful exceptions, with one being The Gophers in Farmer Burrows’ Field, written and illustrated by Mike Boldt, a professional artist and resident of Spruce Grove, AB.

     internal artThe contents of The Gophers in Farmer Burrows’ Field clearly demonstrate that Boldt understands both writing and book illustration. Boldt establishes the conflict in his opening page: one of Farmer Burrows’ fields has been infested by gophers (see excerpt). City dwellers, whose only experience with gophers might be from observing them at a local zoo, may think that these rodents are cute as the gophers scurry about or stand on their hind legs, alert for winged or four-legged predators. And initially, Farmer Burrows also shares the urbanites’ sense of amusement, but, since gophers eat crops, and farm livestock can be injured by accidentally stepping into the entrances to the gophers’ tunnels, Farmer Burrows realizes that he must rid his fields of these pests. He resorts to a tried-and-true approach - drowning them. However, in deference to the sensibilities of his young audience, Boldt doesn’t use that potentially distasteful term. Instead, he simply says, “So he filled their holes with dirt and water and stacked rocks on top of it all.”

     Farmer Burrows’ efforts are not only unsuccessful, but the gophers apparently retaliate by “stacking” the farm’s animals, beginning with the chickens and moving on to cows and other farm animals, before stacking the farm’s machines and implements. Being practical and urged on by his neighbours, Farmer Burrows resumes “normal” farming (see illustration). Farmer Burrows’ problem seems to have found a resolution when a lawyer, who appears at his door, says that the county wants to purchase his land in order to construct a highway that will run through his fields. “Farmer Burrows was overjoyed at the thought of selling his troublesome farm and moved away to a small island where he sunbathed every day.”

     Now, had Boldt concluded The Gophers in Farmer Burrows’ Field with such a deus ex machine device, this review would have ended with “Not Recommended”; however, as I said earlier, Boldt understands writing and plotting. The gophers (and their stacking behaviour) now become the road construction company’s problem, a situation which ultimately leads to Farmer Burrows’ receiving a phone call from the county’s lawyer who offered “to sell the farm back for a very good price.” Always an active man and bored by sunbathing on a tropical island, Farmer Burrows accepts the offer and returns to his still rodent infested farm. The book’s ending, which illustrates “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade,” is simply perfect.

     The contrast between Boldt’s straightforward, tightly written text and his comical illustrations is what elevates The Gophers in Farmer Burrows’ Field to the “Highly Recommended” level. For example, when the text states, “Then he [Farmer Burrows] noticed the problems his cows were having in his fields,” the accompanying illustration shows one cow headfirst in a gopher hole, its body and hind legs waving helplessly in the air, while another cow’s head quizzically pops up from another gopher hole. The elderly Farmer Burrows, with his farmer’s peaked hat, rubber boots and pants hiked up to his chest in “old man” fashion, is visually a delightful character. Though never mentioned in the text, Farmer Burrows is accompanied everywhere by his faithful dog whose postures and “emotions” mirror those of its owner. Boldt also understands the need for visual variety, and he offers a mixture of double-page spreads and single page illustrations while varying the visual perspectives from which the reader observes the action.

     Two small quibbles: For some unknown reason, although the book has a copyright page, it lacks a title page (even though a blank page appears to be available). In the text, “In fact, it seemed to inspire the gophers and Farmer Burrows soon had an entirely different problem.” The pronoun “it” lacks a clear antecedent.

     Nonetheless, an excellent home, school or public library purchase.

Highly Recommended.

Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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