From School Library Journal
K-Gr 4–A farmer can't decide which of his two sons should take charge after he is “dead and gone,” so he challenges each of them to fill the house with a penny's worth of something. When neither of the young men can carry out his mission, he reluctantly allows his daughter to try. Despite the fact that “Everyone knows that girls can't run farms,” Mary fills the house with music from a simple, handmade reed flute and with light from a single candle, and her humbled father chooses her to run the farm. You see, Mary's “very special, secret something” is “brains.” Holland's stylized mixed-media illustrations don't quite mirror the hyperbolic descriptions in the text. The “brawny” Franz–rotund in the illustrations–is said to have hands “as big as stone slabs.” Hans has “feet the size of rowboats” (actually, a largish pair of laced black '40s-era shoes). Clothing cut from patterned paper; shoes clipped from photos; penciled facial features; watercolor backgrounds; crayoned trees, water, and clouds invite viewers to search each page for unusual detail, like the tiny people in medieval dress in the market scenes and the small black cat that is present on most pages. While the oversize gray text is quite readable, the names of Franz and Hans, printed in large, bold type, and Mary's in large italics, are jarring. This retelling of a “feminist fable,” with its redundant references to the inferiority of girls, just doesn't measure up to the wealth of excellent folk tales, picture books, and novels that feature strong female characters.Susan Scheps, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH
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In this wry, spare retelling of a feminist fable, set in the “golden olden days,” a farmer worries about which son will be in charge when he is dead, Frans or Hans. He never thinks of his daughter, Mary: “A girl can’t run a farm.” He tests his sons by giving each one a penny to buy something that will fill the whole house. Frans buys a huge cartload of straw, but with all his efforts, it only fills half the house. Hans tries with feathers, but though he works hard, he also fails. Mary says quietly that “it takes brains not brawn,” and she proves herself by filling the house with light, knowledge, music, and joy. The spacious collage illustrations show the males in old-fashioned overalls, the farmer with spectacles, and Mary in a long dress, figures at times reminiscent of American Gothic. Along with the feminist message, kids will also enjoy the basic triumph of the unnoticed family member. Grades K-3. --Hazel Rochman
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