Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bernie Fuchs
Raising Yoder's Barn
(Little, Brown, 1998)

Living in Lancaster County -- the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country -- I am alternately amused and annoyed with how authors of books for children and young adults portray the Amish. Sometimes the errors are subtle, such as the author/illustrator who drew buggies and used colors associated with the Michigan Amish for a story set in Lancaster County. Sometimes the mistakes are outrageous, such as having the Amish characters use the "plain speech" of Quakers or confusing them with Quakers altogether, giving them names associated with the Puritans or otherwise demonstrating a lack of research -- and these from authors who should know better! What is truly annoying is when reviewers in respected library sources call the books "heartwarming" and "authentic."

Having said that, it is also especially gratifying when an author pays attention and gets it right, and Jane Yolen does exactly that in Raising Yoder's Barn, a simple tale about neighbors helping neighbors.

Young Matthew Yoder is happy and proud to be considered old enough to work in the fields with his older brothers, but his idyllic summer is disrupted when lightning strikes the family's barn and sets it afire, burning it to the ground. Drawn by the ringing of an alarm bell, the neighbors rush to try to put it out, and that being futile, they gather together to raise a new barn, bringing in the supplies and working all day long. Everyone has a job to do, and Matthew wonders how he will be allowed to help. As it turns out, he gets a very important job, bringing instructions to the workers. The barn is raised by dusk, and the family feels truly blessed by the gift of labor from their neighbors. Matthew looks forward to going back to the fields.

Yolen conveys the drama of the story in spare, clean poetic sentences arranged like unrhymed verse. Her images are crisp and vivid in sentences such as "Fingers of flame grabbed at the barn" and "He was a minute of a man, small and dark and wiry, but he could build a big barn." She gives Matthew an authentic voice for his age and perspective, and remarkably, the reader truly sees the events through his eyes.

Bernie Fuchs' oil paintings are full of a marvelous range of warmth and light. Canning jars gleam on a table, while grain grows golden in the fields. The men working on the barn are dappled with bright sunlight, and the dusky twilight washes the barn with muted color. The paintings and the text mesh perfectly. (There is only one small error -- pay attention, future illustrators. The driver sits on the right in an Amish buggy.)

Want a visit to Amish country you won't forget? Read Raising Yoder's Barn.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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