On pocket-money day Pa gives his children Bill, Bob and Penny a challenge: ‘If one of you can fill the barn for a penny, I’ll give you the farm and go sleep in the chicken coop, and that’s a promise!’ So begins this charming and unselfconsciously nostalgic picturebook. Pa greatly underestimates his children, who take on the challenge with relish. Bill fills the barn with turkey feathers, but a hole is sneezed away, scuppering his plan. Bob fills it with candlelight, but some of them burn out, ‘leaving nothing but a puddle of melted wax’. But then Penny has a brainwave and fills the barn with . . . Well, you’ll have to read it to find out. Suffice to say, it’s very clever and original. McCaughrean hits just the right spot with her warm, witty and meticulously written text that has distinct nods towards Wilder’s classic American ‘Little House on the Prairie’ tales. The illustrations by Paul Howard are full of detail and complement the text perfectly. The three children and their different personalities are expertly captured and Howard has obviously done his research on America in the 1950s, right down to the old-style pickup trucks and the junk shop in the town. However, Pa seems to have a sprightly young man’s body and a much older man’s head, complete with missing teeth and wiry white beard, but that is a minor quibble. All in all this book is a kind-hearted little charmer.
This review was published online in