Prather’s Pick: Taking refuge in a barn
A big red barn is right there on the cover of this week’s picture book for children. The barn stands all by itself in a wintry landscape somewhere in Maine. A few rocks, some bushes and dried-up plant stems stick up out of the snow. Drifts of snow are piled up against a fence that runs up to a door on the left side of the barn. Icicles hang from the roof; it’s very cold.
The book is “Winter Barn,” a nonfiction book written and illustrated by Peter Parnall. This is an older book, copyright 1986. I found it while browsing in the children’s room at the Craig branch of the Moffat County Libraries on one of the cold days we’ve experienced lately — how appropriate! By reading this book, readers will learn a lot about the ways animals are able to survive the cold winters.
The old barn is made of oak beams, hemlock boards and cedar shingles. There’s a big sliding door in front with another door to the left and a window way up on top. During the frigid winter weather sheep, horses, and chickens call the barn home, but all kinds of other animals wait out the winter in every part of the barn, from the foundation to the rafters.
A ribbon snake is one animal that lives under the barn. That’s where the red ants live, too. They have made nests that are filled with “vegetable bits.” Mice scurry through small spaces under the barn, too, where they are safe from cats. They especially enjoy the little passageways under the grain room where they pick up various grains that fall through the floorboards.
Talk about cats — they’re everywhere in the barn. They sleep in boxes, barrels, and piles of hay. There are fourteen cats in all that enjoy the cay food that is put out for them. They drink water from the horses’ trough and know when the ice is chipped away twice a day.
The skunk enjoys the cat food, too. She sleeps during the day in a space between beams that are below the horses’ feet. Then at night she sneaks upstairs and eats cat food.
Woodchucks and porcupines live in the barn during the winter, too, and so do the bats that sleep high up in the rafters. Even forest animals, such as the bobcat, fisher and great-horned owl seek refuge in the barn.
At the time this book was published, Peter Parnall had written over 60 books, many of which received awards, including three Caldecott Awards. I can see why. His illustrations are exquisite. Though they are done mostly in black and white, the book’s illustrations are highlighted here and there with color. Examples include the red cat dish, a chicken’s red comb, and brown on the barn’s wood.
“Winter Barn” will leave a reader feeling warm and cuddly. The book was published by Macmillan Publishing Company. It cost about $12.95 in hardcover, but I’ll bet you can order a softcover copy. You can also find an autographed copy of the book in the children’s room at the Craig branch of the Moffat County Libraries.
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