Wordless Books

The Story of a Farm

John S. Goodall

John Strickland Goodall (1908-1996) was a popular British artist of the twentieth century who, as well as illustrating for magazines such as the Radio Times and doing advertising work, created numerous wordless picturebooks. Many of these featured scenes from Victorian or Edwardian life, such as An Edwardian Summer (1976), An Edwardian Christmas (1977), The Edwardian Season (1979) and Victorians Abroad (1980). Goodall also created many popular fictional animal characters, such as Paddy Pork (a pig), Naughty Nancy (a mouse) and Shrewbettina (a shrew).

The Story of a Farm spread

The Story of a Farm is a factual title that shows the development of a farm from the Middle Ages to the late 1980s. It contains scenes of changing farming life, from herding swine to an Elizabethan farmyard, from a Georgian barn dance to a Regency hunt with hounds, from the Second World War land girls to an agricultural show of the 1960s. Each image is beautifully painted in soft watercolours and there is plenty of detail to pore over, with the people, animals and buildings all morphing and changing as the centuries pass. Alongside this change there is also a sense of continuity as the gently rolling green landscape expresses something timeless and quintessentially English. After all there have been people farming the land for hundreds of years.

The Story of a Farm spread

The design of the book uses a technique Goodall particularly liked – that of alternating whole and half pages to show two versions of a similar scene. For instance in one sunny hay-making picture we see the farm hands hard at work, then we turn the mini half page to see them resting for their midday drink. In another we observe some dairymaids making butter; then, with a quick flip, the same women are preparing big round cheeses on a table. It is a little like a simple animation and helps bring a scene to life.

The Story of a Farm spread

There are no words on the pictures themselves, but the beginning of the book lists titles for each image, which guide the reader as to what’s being shown. These titles can provide useful starting points for discussions yet it is the pictures themselves that provide the bulk of the information. In the dairy scene mentioned above the illustrations show things we have now little experience of, such as a yoke and pails, a butter churn, a water pump, heavy pottery jugs and large wooden bowls. There are hooks in the ceiling and even, rather realistically, a few annoying flies buzzing in through the open window. (For another wordless picturebook about an annoying fly, see The Bear & The Fly (1976) by Paula Winter.)

For a complementary title to The Story of a Farm, see Goodall’s earlier The Story of an English Village (1978). And look out for his Creepy Castle (1975), The Adventures of Paddy Pork (1968) – which won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 1969 – Shrewbettina’s Birthday (1971) and Paddy Finds a Job (1981), a wonderfully silly pop-up book.