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Introducing a new Family Friendly subcategory to my blog, as my focus over the last year has turned from putting away childish things to taking them back up from the viewpoint of the parent I hope to become. Expect to see an uptick of children’s and young adult books in addition to my regular diet of adult literature.

Full disclosure: I know the author and received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Busy Cover web copy

When children are very young they’re just learning about the world and don’t even know what a farm is or how it works, which is why you teach them the Old MacDonald song and give them books about tractors and farm animals. Busy Farm is for the next phase, when children know what to expect on a farm and are ready for a fresh spin on it, ready to see the ordinary turned upside down, ready for nonsense. This picture book takes the old phrase “the inmates are running the asylum” and applies it to a productive farm, with absurd results. One page mentions a new, normal chore that needs doing and the following image depicts the zany way the animals go about trying to accomplish the task without human assistance. For example, if you send ostriches to pick the apples they’re naturally going to eat them as well. It’s a cute, effective joke.

Busy Farm illustration

Kate McWethy uses digital photo collage for her illustrations, using carefully selected stock images and combining them into something new with filters and editing. The result is refreshingly cheerful absurdity, some of it hearkening back to old children’s tropes, from the farm setting to an image of counting sheep. It’s amusing and the humour is never cruel or crass.

Busy Farm is an ode to nonsense, which does come at the expense of world-building. The tasks are all things you’d have to do on a farm of sufficient size but the subversions march to their own tune. For instance, you’d expect there to be pigs and cows but ostriches, rubber duckies and even a mythical beast all put in appearances. Physics and proportion are only suggestions on this farm, not rules. Sometimes the style of art even changes gear before reverting to normal, which I think was a bridge too far. However, all of this does play to the book’s advantage because every time you think you’ve figured out the joke it changes. “Okay,” you think, “this is just animals with silly expressions on their face. No, wait, they’re also in silly situations…woah, that’s from Greek mythology…” Busy Farm is unpredictable and that adds value for parents. From visual puns to silly hats, it’s always trying something different.

Parental Guide: No humans are depicted. No educational value to speak of. A few of the scenes may make some children nervous depending on how they feel about tornadoes and aerial dogfights (other kids will undoubtedly find those the best parts of the book). Nothing gross or mean-spirited in the humour, just cute animal silliness that will have equal appeal to boys and girls.

If you want to purchase the Kindle book, you can go here.