his grandparents. Everything is new to Peter as he experiences farm and country life for the first time: drinking milk fresh from the cow, throwing hay into the hayrack, feeding horses from the hand, singing hymns at church on Sunday evenings, and enjoying homemade gingersnaps and rhubarb pie.
Barry Moser’s illustrations are gorgeous! He used watercolor paints. Did you ever try to paint with watercolors? It’s very hard because you can’t make a mistake; if you do, you have to start all over again. The colors also tend to run on the paper if you have too much water on the brush. Moser’s pictures are so bright and perfect! I especially like the expressions on characters’ faces; he did those very well.
Peter’s father is a U.S. Navy officer stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. His mother is a professor of mathematics at a university in San Francisco. In the early summer of 1942, Peter and his mother fly across the country to New York City. She has been hired by the U.S. government to work on a “secret project” there–probably the Manhattan Project, the government’s effort to design an atomic bomb. She and Peter then take a train to Boston, where she heads back to New York and Peter continues north to the White Mountains. Peter’s grandfather picks him up at the Gale Station train stop near West Andover. Peter rides in a horse and buggy back to the farm.
The farm contains a mix of the old and the new. Peter’s grandparents are slow to adopt new technology; it may be too expensive or, more likely, they are traditional people. When Peter’s dad was a boy on the farm, there was no indoor plumbing in the house. They used an outhouse and got their water from a hand pump. They have a cast-iron wood stove that they use not only to heat their house but to cook on. They use a horse and buggy to travel intead of a car–even though cars were common in 1942. However, we know there is electricity in their house because Peter and his grandparents listen to radio broadcasts of war news. In the story, they listen to Gabriel Heatter, a famous radio personality who provided news during World War II; click here to listen to one of Heatter’s broadcasts on December 7, 1942.
The farm that Donald Hall and Barry Moser, the illustrator, probably had in mind while writing the book was Hall’s own farm near Eagle Pond, north of West Andover. The illustrations show a white farm house with green shutters, similar to Hall’s farm. As in the story, trains formerly ran along the east side of Eagle Pond. The tracks are now gone and have been replaced by a trail.
Peter meets people who sing songs and tell stories very different from the ones you would hear in San Francisco. His grandfather recites a poem for him about a man who ran away scared when he saw his first train. (I couldn’t find a poem like this that Hall might have been thinking of, though I tried very hard!) At church, children sing a hymn called “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad.” (see the YouTube video below). And, of course, in the country there are always tall tales to be told. Peter’s Uncle Gene tells a good one about snow during the Blizzard of ’88 piling higher than the tops of houses. That was a real blizzard in 1888 that dropped about 30-40 inches in snow in the Andover, NH area, but that wouldn’t have been enough to cover a house completely! You can read more about the Blizzard of ’88 in a book written byJim Murphy, Blizzard; it describes how the blizzard affected New York City.
The Farm Summer, 1942 provides a real sense of what life was like on a small farm during the 1940s and World War II. What fun it must have been for kids living on a farm during that time! I hope you’ll take a closer look at Farm Summer, 1942 and learn more about rural life in 1940s New England.
Donald Hall biography
Boston & Maine Railroad History