Closer Readings Commentary

“The Year at Maple Hill Farm”: A Read-Aloud for Grades K–1

I always had a special place in my heart for that wondrous place in upstate New York. There is magic there, trust me, dance in the paddock when the fireflies are roaming about in summer, and take in deep breaths when “the frost is on the pumpkin” in October. It is almost like a God-like experience, the wonder and the total joy one feels when in its environs …

—Erik Provensen, nephew of Alice Provensen*


Author-illustrators Alice and Martin Provensen offer readers a panoramic view of an entire year on their 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 Provensens’ own farmhouse and barn against a backdrop of rural Duchess County within 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.

This engaging story gives young children insight into what a natural year looks like and shows them what changes occur within seasonal weather patterns—especially in relation to farm animals. 

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

About 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. She incorporated her artistic knowledge into hands-on work for her own needs, including sketches of dresses, designs for bar stools, and drawings of draperies. At one point, Alice cleaned an artist’s studio in exchange for lessons. During WWII, 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 future husband.

Alice and Martin married in 1944 and lived for a time in New York City before turning from cartoon drawing to book illustrations. Their first book collaboration, The Fireside Book of Folk Songs, contained over 500 illustrations. In their travels abroad, they collected material they would utilize throughout their career. After returning to the United States, they bought Maple Hill Farm in Duchess County, New York, and raised a daughter there. The small family enjoyed a peaceful life in the bucolic countryside. 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 recognition in their field including the prestigious Caldecott Medal (1984).

Alice and Martin lived and worked on Maple Hill Farm for decades. After Martin died, Alice carried on alone and produced several more award-winning picture books. In the late 1990s Alice sold the farm and now lives with her daughter and grandchildren in California.

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There are vocabulary words in The Year at Maple Hill Farm that students may not know or understand in this context. It may be helpful to point out the following definitions as you read aloud the text for each month, asking and answering questions as they arise.

Teachers may want to use these vocabulary words for mini-lessons beyond simply asking and answering questions related to the text. (For example: Model how to use word parts to determine the meaning of compound words or words with suffixes using terms such as “windfall apples” and “marshy place.”)

(Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.1.4 Ask and answer questions to help determine or clarify the meaning of words and phrases in a text.)


  • Windfall apple: slightly under-ripe apples that fall off trees due to the wind and land on the ground


  • Marshy place: an area of low wet land, often treeless with overgrowth, a swamp
  • Noisy rooks: sound of birds in the crow family, their call is usually described as kaah


  • Mad March hare: rabbits behave strangely and excitedly throughout their early spring breeding season
  • Mother ewe: mother sheep
  • Business-like way: purposeful, earnest, no feeling


  • Cuckoo: a largely grayish-brown bird that is given to laying its eggs in the nests of other birds, which hatch them and rear the babies; also, a silly person


  • Shorn: to have had removed by cutting or clipping with a sharp instrument as in to shear wool from sheep


  • Croak: the sound a frog makes
  • Conveyer: piece of farm equipment that moves materials from one place to another


  • Attention: notice taken of someone or something


  • Temperamental: unreasonable changes of mood
  • Grudges: an ongoing feeling of ill will or resentment


  • Harvest: the process or period of gathering in crops
  • Migrant bees: movement of “worker” bees with crop changes


  • Ganders: adult male geese
  • Huntsmen horn: horn used as a signal from the huntsman to his hounds during the hunt


  • Straw beds: a chunk of straw for the animals to sleep on in the barn

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Read Aloud with Questions

You might preface this read aloud activity with a preliminary talk about the first page of the book, an overview of “The Year.” Share thoughts about the way the year is divided (months, weeks, days, and minutes) and the fact that the animals are unaware of such divisions.

Consider the ways the animals are aware of the different seasons and compare that to the way the students experience the seasons. Emphasize 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. If possible, you may take time to record these descriptive words. (Suggested descriptive phrases are provided below.) Save the students’ suggestions for use in the “After Reading Activity” to introduce students to the concept the year is round.

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.

If possible, you might allow students time to discuss the questions with a partner, then share with whole class.

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

Suggested Descriptive Phrases and Follow-up Questions:




night falls early

Question: How do the animals cope with the cold?


ice skating

frozen pond


Question: How do animals play with and in the ice?


windy and cold

spring is coming

birthing season

Question: What are some signs of spring in the animal world?


spring arrives

bird eggs are everywhere

eggs hatch babies


Describe changes to the farm in the spring.

Where are the birds laying their eggs? Other than color, what is different about the basket of colored eggs from the other bird eggs in the story?


warm days

animals shed coats

dogs get haircuts

Question: How do animals get comfortable in the heat?


summer arrives

green grass

pond overflows

insects and bees



Describe changes to the farm in the summer.

What do animal mothers teach their young?


people stay up late

animals eating grass

hay making

Question: What are the sounds of summer?


late summer

blue sky



Question: How do animals pass the time in the summer?


fresh wind

shorter days


autumn arrives


Describe the changes to the farm in autumn?

How do the changes affect the horses?

Why do the animals need to take medicine?


harvest time

insects gone

dry and bright


What do the birds do in the fall? Why?

What do animals start gathering? Why?


frosty nights

winter coming

wind blows

trees bare


What are the sounds of winter coming to the farm?

How do the farmers prepare?


winter begins


dark cold days

early nights

Questions: Why do people and animals go to bed early?

Postscript: Who stays up to welcome the first month of the New Year? What are they doing?

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After Reading Activities 

Engage students in deeper conversation on 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.

Introduce and build upon the concept that the year is round and can be arranged like a circle. Ask students: What month comes after December? Turn back to the front of the book, and pose the following questions:

  • Do you notice something similar in the caption for the months of December and January?
  • Can this be the author’s way of linking up the two months and showing how the final month of the year flows into the first month of the year?
  • How does this link create a picture in our minds that the year is round? 
  • What shape does the expression “the year is round” make you think of?

Tell students you will be working together to shape the story they have just read into a circle.

EDSITEment handout, The Year is Round offers a graphic organizer to structure the circular plot of the text. [Note: This worksheet is formatted as an 11x17 landscape pdf.] In each monthly circle in the organizer, enter the descriptive phrases you elicited from students to form a record of a full year on the farm.

For an alternate activity, refer to ReadWriteThink’s K–2 lesson plan, Completing the Circle: The Craft of Circular Plot. Teachers may elect to follow steps forSession One: Introduction to Circle Stories through Session Three: Circle Plot Graphic Organizerto reinforce the concept of the year being round. An Interactive Circle Plot Diagram serves as an optional online tool to label and describe the events in the story.

(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.)

Related Read-Aloud Stories

Are your students asking for more adventures concerning the animals found in this book?

Lucky for them, 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 for each domestic and barnyard animals 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.)

Another picture book to use as a basis of comparison for The Year at Maple Hill Farm is by award-winning author-illustrator, Jan Brett. The Mitten (1989) is Brett’s charming adaptation of a traditional Ukrainian folktale featuring a winter scene where a series of woodland animals engage in a humorous misadventure. In the course of reading the book aloud, you may encourage students to compare and contrast the antics of the animals who come to inhabit the mitten with those on Maple Hill Farm.

(Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.1.9 Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories.)

Creative Activity

  • Cut twelve large circles from freezer paper or other mural paper;
  • Divide the class into 12 groups, designating each group a circle and a month title starting with January and continuing through December;
  • Have students draw their own pictures of the monthly changes that occur in their own communities and/or of activities their families enjoy in a given month
  • Have students within each group explain their drawings;
  • Post the drawings in a circular fashion around the classroom. If possible, post them by seasons—hanging groups of three months for each season on each of the four walls of the classroom.

(Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.1.5 Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions when appropriate to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.)


* posted on Hammertown blog, "Maple Hill Farm, Finding Home Again, Part I"


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