Friends can come from the most unlikely places. In the case of Marla Frazee’s tender wordless story, The Farmer and the Clown, that place is from the back of a circus train in the middle of nowhere.
A surly, old farmer is working in his fields when a bright and colorful circus train flies by in the distance. The man is startled to see that, after hitting a bump in the train tracks, some sort of bundle falls from the train. He walks forward to find that the bundle is actually a child clown, dressed in yellow neck ruffles, a red clown suit and a pointy red hat.
The tiny clown runs to the man and gives him a giant hug. The farmer has no choice but to bring him in and take care of him. In one moving spread, the two wash their faces, the boy clearly feeling vulnerable and scared once he’s washed off his white face make-up. No worries: The farmer lets down his guard, too, and goes out of his way to make him feel at home. One gets the sense he’s not used to company, but he quickly warms up to the boy.
Frazee conveys much with her characters’ body language (the slumped shoulders and ponderous gait of the man and the sprightly energy of the kid), as well as her palette choices in these graceful pencil and gouache spreads. At first, browns and shadows dominate, making the red and yellow get-up of the boy stand out even more, and then more light appears as their friendship grows.
Just as the man starts to smile more, he must say goodbye to the clown when the train returns with his family. It’s a poignant and heartfelt farewell, but he keeps the boy’s hat as a memento. The final illustration communicates a great deal about how this man has changed, but I’ll leave that for you to discover if you pick up a copy of this warmhearted story of friendship.
Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.