Haystack, written by Bonnie Geistert and illustrated by Arthur Geisert in 1995 is the first book by this masterful visual story teller that I ever encountered. Nine or so years ago my son and I were in the library perusing the shelves and we found this gem. We took it home and read it over and over then went back to the library for more works by Geisert and we discovered the "Town" series, also written by Bonnie Geisert. Like Haystack, Desert Town, Mountain Town, River Town and Prairie Town observe one thing over the course of a year. Geistert's subject matter, whether it is life in the year of a rural town or his other favorite subject matter, the fantastic experiences of intrepid, problem solving pigs, (Ice, The Giant Ball of String, Pigaroons, etc.) is always fascinating and illuminating. Geistert's artistic style, to me, feels like a cross between that of Albrecht Dürer, the fifteenth century German painter and printmaker, and Richard Scary (why doesn't this brilliant guy have his own website yet???) This makes sense since the illustrations for Geisert's picture books are always made from etchings. In fact, one of his books is called The Etcher's Studio and follows a young boy and his grandfather as they prepare for an end of the year art sale. Because of the complexity of the etching process, Geistert always has a solid story in mind before he beings the artwork and this is obvious when you read his books. Geister's perspective is always one of curiosity; he wants to know how things work or how you can get from point A to point B to make something work on the page, even if it couldn't work in the real world. The intense vision that the artistic process of etching requires along with Geistert's innate curiosity and vision make his books a visual and narrative treat.
Haystack begins, "Across the prairie in the spring, the grass grew tall." Over the next six pages we see the hay field mowed and rolled into windrows then the windrows bunched into piles.
Then, to my urban amazement, the hay is spread, piled and tromped and framed by a fence. Bonnie Geisert's writing is sparse but well chosen, as are the scenes that Arthur Geisert chooses to illustrate. I wish I could show you every single page of the book, but I can tell you about the beautiful two page spread that shows the farming family relaxing atop the hay pile while they wait for more loads to be collected and delivered. Geistert also treats us to an aerial view of the farm from a distance so the reader can get an idea of just how big the haystack, which will feed the cattle for a year, is.
Then, to my amazement, I learn that thunderstorms threaten to set fire to the haystack as the cattle chip away at it. Before winter the frame is removed so the cattle can reach the hay. In the cold, snowy winter the haystack shelters the cattle as they eat tunnels through the haystack. At the end of winter the cattle are herded to another field as the time nears for the calves to be born. The pigs and their piglets are moved in. Geisert writes, "Now they had the field to run in. And they had food from the haystack. The haystack was a place to feed and a place to rest." Eventually the stack is not much more than a small pile of hay that calves and pigs share. In the end, the stack is a "heap of manure." Haystack ends with the line, "And the grass grew tall in preparation for the cycle to begin again."