Known for animating America’s past for young readers, MacLachlan here imagines a community barn-raising from a century ago.
The setting is simply “a meadow,” leaving room for Pak’s atmospheric mixed-media and digital compositions to fill in physical and emotional elements. Burnt sienna is the predominant color of the landscape; it surrounds the minimalist figures like a textured veil, emphasizing their ties to the Earth. The narrator, 5 years old at the start, is identified by a red cap and dark hair. He holds the ladder while wooden frames are bolted to beams, plays with neighbors in the stream, and enjoys the celebratory picnic and the photograph that records the gathering. Characters have various skin tones—whether from ethnicity or sun, it is hard to say—but the protagonist and his family present white. This quiet tale captures the rhythm of rural life throughout seasons—and then over generations—with the solid structure at the center of daily chores, fond interactions with animals, sleepovers with cousins, and weddings. The moments of highest drama involve a wedding ring lost by the protagonist’s father during construction and recovered in a barn owl’s nest when the son has become the farmer. MacLachlan weaves in an abundance of details that will appeal to children with no firsthand experience with farming: “Once, a lamb named Baby pushed me over and licked my face with his little tongue.”
A cozy filter through which to imagine growing up. (Picture book. 4-7)