The Enid Blyton Society
At Appletree Farm
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Book Details...

First edition: 1944
Publisher: Brockhampton Press
Illustrator: Eileen A. Soper
Category: Brockhampton Picture Books
Genre: Farm
Type: Short Story Series Books

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Review by Terry Gustafson

Two children, Jack and Mary, are sent to live with their Uncle John on his farm for a 'long' time and they're terribly excited about it. After only a few opening sentences they've already arrived so we can't be sure whether they were accompanied or sent on a train alone. Jack looks about eight and his sister approximately seven, but in those days (1944) it wasn't all that uncommon for children to travel by themselves.

Uncle John and Aunt Jenny have a fine old fashioned farm house on an acreage of beautiful fields and hills. Eileen Soper leads us through the pages as Jack and Mary experience what it's like to savour the country life with all kinds of animals as companions. The first livestock they rub shoulders with are some hens in the yard but there are also ducks to watch as they swim around on the pond, and geese cackling their way down to the water as well. Big turkeys gobble and there's grunting to be heard when the children view some piglets through the sty gate.

They meet Clopper and Shaggy-Feet the big cart-horses, not to mention a herd of cows in a nearby field where familiar Blyton names spring up - Blossom, Daisy, Clover and Buttercup. Uncle John seems to have named all of his cows because 'Sorrel' and 'Primrose' are also pulling up grass and 'chewing the cud'.

The days go by, and now Jack and Mary are up on a hillside visiting the sheep. The shepherd brings a couple of lambs for them to pet and Mary wishes she could have one to emulate her namesake who once - 'had a little lamb.' With potatoes, peas and gravy? When it's time to turn the earth, Uncle John ploughs his paddocks in the old fashioned way of course with Shaggy-Feet and Clopper doing the hard work and the children follow along watching straight furrows appearing in the soil. Rooks and jackdaws trail behind because the upturned earth supplies them with a meal of grubs and other delicacies. Mary asks why the fields have to be ploughed and when the farmer stops to allow his horses a well-earned rest, he explains the ins and outs to an interested audience.

The cows are milked every day of course and no stay on a farm would be complete without a little try at it. The children are given milking stools and make a worthy attempt at squeezing the frothy liquid into pails. As on other Blyton farms such as Mistletoe, Cherry Tree, and Willow, there's a dairy where butter is churned from rich cream and packaged in wrappers that have 'Apple-Tree Farm' stamped on them.

Shearers arrive one day and when they get to work with their clippers Mary feels quite sorry for the poor sheep who " ... will be so cold!"

"No they won't," Uncle John assures her because the May sunshine is hot and the sheep are glad to get rid of their thick coats.

Hay-making is a communal effort so all hands are out in the fields when 'tossing' day arrives. The children have the time of their lives throwing the stuff about and burying each other - that is until Mary suddenly goes missing. She's eventually found asleep under a hay-cock having dropped from exhaustion so she's allowed to ride back to the farm house on Clopper for a treat.

The corn grows as 'high as an elephant's eye' and it whispers in the wind. Soper pictures are well-balanced and there's an attractive one of the children piling the sheaves into 'stooks' with horses pulling the reaper behind them.

Autumn arrives and with it comes apple harvesting. The children, always eager to help, are allowed to take part in this provided they're careful when climbing the trees. Jack and Mary pick hundreds and the sweet fruit is stored in the loft for winter.

At last it's time to leave the farm and travel home. 'Goodbyes' are said to the horses and the cows and the sheep out on the hillside. The pigs, hens, ducks and geese are also waved 'farewell,' and on his way home Jack decides that when he grows up he'd like to purchase some property of his own and name it 'Pear-Tree Farm.' It looks as if the children are going to forfeit marriage because Mary wants to come and live with him so that she can milk the cows and make plenty of butter.

What a splendid idea!

I haven't seen many Eileen Soper colour pictures in the Enid Blyton books, but this one has plenty.

Maybe Jack and Mary experienced an evacuation of sorts because in those days many children were photographed boarding trains that took them to safer centres or countryside locales for protection from Nazi bombs. But then again, a picture features the children standing by a signpost depicting: "To Apple Tree Farm," so who knows? They may have lived nearby and walked from the village, or perhaps got off a train and were on their way to the farm.

Mistletoe, Cherry Tree, and Willow are the names of other farms that Enid Blyton wrote about in some depth and one might think that when you've read a single book about farming life there wouldn't be much else to say. Not true in EB's case.

What are 'stooks?' I suppose they speak for themselves in the story context, but for the townie - they're sheaves stacked upright in a field.