Dear Children’s Librarians Who Conduct Story Times:
Meet your new favorite read-aloud, Old Mikamba Had a Farm by Rachel Isadora.
It’s true. You’d be hard-pressed to find a group of preschool children who won’t get great joy out of this latest offering from Rachel Isadora, especially if it’s paired with other “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” picture book adaptations. (And children’s librarians know they don’t have to look hard to find those.)
For this one, Isadora takes readers to Africa. On the endpapers, she lays out the setting. This is a warm, russet-colored spread, showing a small African village with various animals wandering by and with the large, glowing sun setting in the sky. On the next spread, the title page, we see Old Mikamba with a parrot in hand and a monkey gallivanting nearby.
And, as the song begins (“Old Mikamba had a farm, E-I-E-I-O”), we meet his children—or at least village children who are with him. The song continues, and we are introduced to 14 creatures native to Africa. Many are what you would expect—a giraffe here and a zebra there—but Isadora also includes some lesser-known animals, such as the springbok, dassie (otherwise known as a rock rabbit) and flat lizard.
As everyone knows, this old children’s song and nursery rhyme is a playground for onomatopoeia, but Isadora ups the ante here with these African animals. Instead of a mere “oink oink” here or “woof woof” there, readers are treated to a baboon’s “OOH-HA-HA,” a warthog’s “SNORT-SNORT,” a lizard’s “HISS-HISS,” a rhino’s “BELLOW-BELLOW,” and much more.
Children will welcome the opportunity to get wild—in more ways than one.
The illustrations were created with oil paints, ink and pencil, and various printed papers. Isadora puts texture to work to add interest—many of the spreads have brightly colored borders in various designs—and to create a tangible feeling to the artwork. The giraffes’ spots are composed of patches of fabric readers will want to reach out and touch. The elephants and rhinos consist of newspaper clippings pasted down, and Mikamba’s clothes appear to be pieces of fabric, which even include threads, making it look as if his shirt is sewn to the page.
Many of the creatures appear to stare right at the reader—the chirping ostrich, the bleating giraffe, the growling cheetah and her cub—but many are in motion. The springboks leap in silhouette on a page with no borders and vivid orange and yellow oils for the sky. One of the creatures seems to leap right into the next spread, making for a compelling page turn for little hands.
Isadora closes the book with a note (“some interesting facts”) on each animal featured, adding that many of them are on the list of endangered species. It’s a sad and contemplative (but honest) ending to a very joyous book.
OLD MIKAMBA HAD A FARM. Copyright © 2013 by Rachel Isadora. Published by Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin, New York. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.