by: Kevin Daugherty, Education Director for the Illinois Ag in the Classroom Program
What does a good ‘ag book’ look like? Honestly, it is almost easier to tell you what it isn’t instead of what it is! In my opinion an ‘Ag Book’ isn’t about Agriculture. Instead, we look for books that accurately portray a story that features agriculture. If we wanted authors to write ‘Ag Books’ we’d instead turn to our trusty farm periodicals and magazines.
Good Ag Books tell a story. Peggy Thomas, author of “Farmer George Plants a Nation” and “Thomas Jefferson Grows a Nation” calls her discovery by the ag community an accident. She was writing passionately about George Washington and his love of nature and plants. She realized there were many books out there on Washington, but few portray him as a farmer. Cris Peterson author of “Seed, Soil and Sun” as well as “Clarabelle the Cow, Making Milk and so much more” does have an ag background, but her books, most importantly tell a story that connects ag to the general public.
We’re looking for the story, but we also look for accuracy.
Pigs in mud, old fashion ‘milk cans’, antique tractor, and hand milking photos and references (in books set today) automatically go to the ‘no thank you pile’. Use of appropriate and accurate photos as well as terminology is appreciated. We find there is a place for illustrated books, but not depicting agriculture as a cartoon. Personification of animals is a tricky area. It depends on the subject. Can you deny the story of Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web”? It is a great book on friendship, but isn’t an ‘ag book’ nor do we promote it as such. I fall back on a comparison to the Disney Characters when dealing with personification, why are we all okay with Goofy being a character, but Pluto is a pet? Accuracy also means that artichokes aren’t popping up in Illinois fields, or oranges commercially harvested in the Dakotas. We look for a balance of subject matter (not all dairy cattle are Holsteins) and also ways to promote all of agriculture (don’t say one type of meat is better than another).
At the end of the day, taking all things into consideration, the goal of finding a good ‘Ag Book’ means reading many books. Putting some down immediately, and coming back to others. Because teachers don’t have to teach agriculture, we instead look for ways to incorporate agriculture into what they might be teaching, and reading even more books. Stay tuned for what we are reading!
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Kevin Daugherty is the Education Director for the Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom program. A former Junior High History and English Teacher, Daugherty also has background in curriculum development. Daugherty and his wife Katherine have three children and are active in the local community. Daugherty currently serves as the President of his local board of education. He has a stack of books at home, in the office and even in his van!