Accurate Agriculture Books Provide Rural Reads
When the weather turns colder, nothing feels better than cozying up alongside your children or grandchildren with a good story. And while entertaining, classic tales of Old MacDonald’s Farm don’t accurately depict today’s farms.
Luckily, several authors understand the importance of showing a true representation of modern farmers, while still keeping the story fun and informative. Ray Bial of Champaign-Urbana falls into that category.
“I lived all over growing up because my father was in the Air Force. My favorite times were when we lived on farms and in small towns,” Bial says. After graduating from the University of Illinois, he became interested in writing and photography. His love of the land sparked a rural theme in his work.
“I wrote a small book on a little farm town here during the harvest season. That really launched things for me because they thought it was very accurate and depicted the life of the harvest season,” Bial says. “After that, I had a chance to do a children’s book called ‘Corn Belt Harvest’. It was crucial to me to make it as accurate as possible since people have a lot of stereotypes surrounding farmers.”
“Corn Belt Harvest” resonated with children as well as adults, appealing to teachers and grandparents who wanted to read the story to their grandchildren.
“People have romanticized ideas of farmers,” Bial says. “They don’t realize the hard work and amount of responsibility coming from the people who take care of the land.”
Bial’s other books include “A Handful of Dirt,” examining what’s really in the soil, and “The Super Soybean,” which talks about the many uses of soybeans.
Kevin Daugherty, Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) program education director, realizes the importance of children’s books such as Bial’s, especially since most of today’s generations didn’t grow up on a farm.
“The big reason we want to have accuracy is because people are so removed from the farm,” Daugherty says. “We want to show them how farming is today. We can still show historic books, like ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm,’ but we want to make that connection between the food, fiber and fuel we use today back to the farm.”
Daugherty has been working in conjunction with the American Farm Bureau Federation to advocate for more accurate books about food and farming.
“The Illinois Ag in the Classroom program is known for doing more with books and publishers than any other state program,” Daugherty says. “The American Farm Bureau knew we had good connections with authors, so they asked for help on this.”
Through the partnership, they highlighted Bial along with two other authors, Peggy Thomas of New York and Michelle Houts of Ohio.
“Ray is a phenomenal author who also takes photos for picture books. He lets them tell the story,” Daugherty says. “Peggy Thomas writes historical nonfiction for children, focusing on topics such as George Washington as a farmer. Michelle Houts has taken the young adult approach, writing about raising animals in today’s world for show and meat in a very understandable way.”
IAITC distributes books to county coordinators and provides lesson plans so teachers can use them across subjects.
Daugherty says that IAITC will continue to work with authors in the future and ensure precision before their books go to print.
“I receive books all the time to review – weekly,” he says. “I will always give authors information on who to talk to. We really just want to provide accurate information.”