The Fruits of labor: Review of ‘Ox-cart man’

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

Reading Level 

Grade 3

AR 4.5 (0.5 points)

Interest Level  

 K – 3

Review and Comments

Ox-Cart man is the father of a very industrious family. Their story is a wonderful lesson about the hard work required in early nineteenth century America.  It is definitely an instructive glimpse at the important jobs the family had to accomplish over the course of an entire year.

The lesson begins in October when the family loads all the products they have made from their farm’s resources into a cart pulled by an ox.  Products such as: wool and linen, brooms, fruit and vegetables, candles, honey, and even goose feathers are carefully packed for the trip to the market.

It takes ten days to reach the market in Portsmouth, and the father walks the whole way.  When he arrives he successfully sells every item the family has painstakingly prepared over the last twelve months. Then, the father even sells the containers that the products were carried in, the cart, and even the ox.  He is able to buy a few necessary and practical items that are needed on the farm with the money he just earned.  There is an iron kettle, an embroidery needle, a carving knife, and although not strictly needed, he also includes a special treat of some candy for the family. Then it is time to walk home with his purchases.

As soon as he reaches home, the family begins preparing for the next market. The daughter stitches, the son whittles, and the father begins making a new harness and yoke for the young ox in the barn.  There is weaving to accomplish, continual candle making, sugar trees to tap, and sheep to shear.  Then there is planting and delicious honey to gather.  The seasons come and go, and a new cycle of farm life begins anew.

This story is a wonderful choice for young children whether read aloud or for an independent reader.  The simple, straight forward sentences explain how the family works all year, sells the fruits of its labor, and then prepares for the next market. 

Two other reviews Ox-Cart Man

Lily (7 years):  “It was a good book.  The Ox-Man walked to the store and sold all his stuff.  I would like to grow crops like him.  I think it’s a good book for someone else to read.”

Wyatt (5 years):  “I didn’t really like the book.  The man sold the ox!  I like that there was a new ox in the barn though.” 

A simple character poster for the book.
Lily’s character chart.

Possible Concerns

There are no concerns with this book.

Further Discussion

Award: Caldecott Medal 1980

Primitive Americana Art

  1. Draw a scene similar to the primitive art in the book using different media: paint, paper, colored pencils, markers, fabric, or a combination.
  2. Design a shawl or mittens that you would make.


There are many educational videos that demonstrate 19th century skills.  These are a few that are very instructive.

“Flax Spinning” [Frontier Culture Museum] demonstrates how to spin flax fibers into thread. h

  1. “Sheep Shearing on Dartmoor, Edwardian Farm” shows a sheep being sheared using hand shears.  The actual shearing begins at about 1:30 minutes into the video.
  • “Seasons Song”

Posters and Charts:

  1. Seasons: Divide a poster into fourths.  Label each section with the name of one season and the months of that season. Add a seasonal tree or other symbols to distinguish the season. [Examples: snowflake, fall leaves] Add pictures of chores accomplished and products produced in each season.  [Examples: shearing sheep in April,  planting in May]
  2. Family Chores:Make a list of chores done by each member of the family. [Examples:  Father shearing, Mother weaving on the loom, Daughter knitting, Son carving]
  3. Compare: Divide a poster in half.  Write Past in one column and Present in the other. Find pictures of tools used or chores mentioned in the story and pictures of tools and similar jobs done today.  Glue them in the appropriate columns.

Map Work:

  1. On a map, label each state in the North Eastern United States. Label  Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
  2. Locate England on a world map.


Grow a potato in water. “Sprouting Sweet Potatoes”- step by step instructions.

Catholic Resources:

St. Isadore is the patron saint of farmers.His feast day is May 15

St. Veronica is the patron saint of linen weavers.  Her feast day is July 12.

St. Ambrose is the patron saint of beekeepers and candle makers.  His feast day is December 7.

CCC 2402 In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits……

CCC 2404 “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.” The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

CCC 2203 In creating man and woman, God instituted the human family and endowed it with its fundamental constitution. Its members are persons equal in dignity. For the common good of its members and of society, the family necessarily has manifold responsibilities, rights, and duties.

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