Closer Readings Commentary

“The Year at Maple Hill Farm”: An Informational Text Exemplar

February follows January. The forest pond is frozen solid, all but a marshy place where the spring water feeds the pond. —The Year at Maple Hill Farm

Take a circular tour of the seasons and discover how “The Year is Round.” The Year at Maple Hill Farm: A Common Core Read-Aloud for Grades K­–1 offers primary grade teachers new ways to engage students. Discover what a natural year really looks like and what changes occur with seasonal weather patterns, especially in relation to farm animals.

The picture book

Take in the panoramic view of an entire year on a family farm in the gently humorous and charmingly illustrated picture book, The Year at Maple Hill Farm, for ages 3–7. The setting for the story is the husband-wife and author-illustrators’ own farmhouse and barn against a backdrop of rural Duchess County in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. The text portrays how the animals in and around Maple Hill Farm sense the monthly changes and adapt to them. The illustrations offer fetching scenes of life on the farm and tableaux of the changing seasons within the surrounding countryside.

The Common Core State Standards has identified The Year at Maple Hill Farm as a Read-Aloud Informational Text exemplar for grades K–1.

The author-illustrators

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1918, Alice Horace showed an early aptitude for drawing and later studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. This experience fueled Alice’s dream of becoming a professional artist and as the years passed, one door after another opened, allowing Alice to fulfill her vocation. During World War II, she drew shipyard inventory parts and safety posters before accepting a post at the Walter Lantz Studio drawing animated cartoons. It was there that she met fellow artist Martin Provensen, who would become her husband.

Alice and Martin married in 1944 and lived for a time in New York City before purchasing Maple Hill Farm and raising a daughter there. Turning from cartoon drawing to book illustration, their first published collaboration, The Fireside Book of Folk Songs, contained over 500 illustrations. Working as a team, the Provensens captured the antics of their farm animals in their drawings. Their gift for creating characters with realistic details, soft tones, and distinctive personalities earned them much recognition in their field, including the prestigious Caldecott Medal (1984).

Activities aligned to the Common Core

Consider the ways the animals are aware of the different seasons and compare that to the way the students experience the seasons. Emphasize that the year “could start with any month as far as the animals are concerned” and the fact that our calendar year begins with January.

As you conduct the reading, pause after each month and discuss the story events with students. Have them identify a few descriptive phrases for the monthly shifts they observe. After students have had a chance to digest what is happening in the text and picture scenes for each month, pose the follow-up question(s) provided for them.

Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.7 Use illustrations and details in a story to describe its characters, setting, or events.

Engage students in deeper conversation about the big ideas that are conveyed in this story. Discuss the calendar year as a cycle of seasons and experiences. Using the circular graphic handout, Four Seasons of the Year, enter the names of the months for each season and a few terms to describe them. Discuss how each season is tied to annual changes in air temperature, the duration of sunlight for day and night, and other regular shifts in the natural world.

Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.2 Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text and CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.3 Describe the connection between two individuals, events, ideas, or pieces of information in a text.

If your students ask for more adventures concerning the animals found in this book, they are in luck. The Provensens wrote a companion book in 2001, Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, which poses the question: “Who lives at Maple Hill Farm?”This second story brings readers even closer to the individual animals on the farm namely: “Two dogs, five horses, a pig, some geese, lots of chickens, a few cows, a few goats, several sheep, and four special cats.” It offers a more detailed look at the personalities and proclivities of each domestic and barnyard animal depicted in the illustrations and text. Have students compare the descriptions of each type of animal from the two books to see how they are similar and different.

Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.9 Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (e.g., in illustrations, descriptions, or procedures.)