As I drove home tonight and looked at the sky, I immediately knew it was an “Ox-Cart Man” sky, the one in November where he finally arrived back home. Do you know “Ox-Cart Man” by Donald Hall?
It is one of the first really good books I discovered when I started teaching. It tells the story of a New England farmer and his family, over the course of a year. Children learn about the work on a farm in each season, from spring to the following spring. They pick apples and geese feathers, boil the sap from maple trees to make maple syrup, knit mittens from the wool of sheep, make shingles and candles, and more. There is much that happens in order for the ox-cart man to make his journey to Portsmouth.
It takes him ten days to walk. Ten days! He is in Portsmouth Market to sell what he grew, made, and raised over the year, including selling his ox and the cart. Kissing his ox goodbye is a favorite for children.
This is my favorite part of the book, as children see the vast difference between October and November. I flip back and forth between the illustrations. We spend time to talk about the journey and what he sold. We reflect on what he made and grew. It was hard work.
And what did he get in return? A broom for his wife, a knife for his son, and a needle for his daughter. Oh, peppermint candy, too.
The illustrations are simple and perfect. The text flows, holding the reader to the story – the entire year on the farm. I did not know that “Ox-Cart Man” is actually a poem. I learned that when I read “The Poet’s Dog” by Patricia MacLachlan.
I read this story every year to children, in November. It is one book that never looses its appeal, never gets forgotten regardless of the many new books that have since been published. Yes, it is a classic. I will be reading the book tomorrow at school.