5 October 2022

Buddy: A Farm in the Forest Story
Written by Jena Wagmann, Illustrated by Alana Hyrtle
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$16.95 ISBN 9-781988-783895

It’s not uncommon for children’s authors to transform a scenario from “real” life into a story for a picture book, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. In the case of Goodsoil, SK writer Jena Wagmann’s new title, Buddy: A Farm in the Forest Story, the actual-experience-to-the-page formula works dog gone well.

The retired school administrative assistant-turned-farmer (and writer!) has paired her talents with Nova Scotia illustrator Alana Hyrtle—and if I’m guessing correctly, this is actually a mother-daughter team—to create a heartwarming story with delightful watercolour illustrations about adopting a scruffy Shih Tzu who’d been abandoned in the forest by its previous owner. “Buddy” was “definitely not the handsomest dog they had ever seen—his eyes bulged out of his head, his teeth stuck out on one side of his mouth, and his little black nose did not sit in the middle of his face.”

Buddy appears on the cover facing the moon and a star-filled sky above a forest, and it was easy to fall for the “little bit crooked” canine hero who at one time had a loving owner, but was passed on to a neglectful man. In time, the “dirty and matted” dog “who had nobody to play with” even forgot his own name. We empathize as the dog becomes weak in the forest, and rejoice when a crowing rooster (the dog and Barred Rock rooster are able to speak to one another) alerts him to the clearing where Buddy finds “a farm in the forest,” and works his way into the heart of the female farmer and her family.

I appreciated the colour and variety of illustrations in this 63-page book for young readers. They range from a double-paged, full-bleed of the entire farm—complete with round bales, various animals, a porch swing on the farmhouse verandah, a weathervane on the barn, and a well-hoed garden—to tiny close-ups, and there are several illustrations that show Buddy with his five new human “siblings” and his new “parents.”

I also enjoyed the humorous touches, especially evident in expressions like “The sight of you would probably scare the manure out of her!” (this from the anthropomorphic rooster) and, after the children teach Buddy a repertoire of tricks, the “farmer’s husband” (love the play on the more common “farmer’s wife”) says “Well, I’ll be a beaver’s dam!”

There’s also a character in the book who is not a fan of the new pet. “Aunt Bea found him to be so ugly she even refused to eat if they were together in the same room.” Ah, but here’s the moral: “… it’s what’s inside that makes us beautiful,” the farmer tells Buddy.

In Wagmann’s afternotes we learn that Buddy enjoyed nine years with the author and her family, a time in which is “destroyed a lot of socks” and “rolled in cow manure every chance he got.”

This book is everything an effective children’s title should be: well-written, fun, relatable, and lovely to look at. Another fine YNWP publication.


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