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Tractor Mac: Autumn Is Here, by Billy Steers


2019/10/04




By Nancy Brannon and Allison Lail, with Calvin Lail

What do you like about autumn, or fall? Colorful leaves? Cooler weather? In the newest Tractor Mac book, Autumn Is Here, Fergus the calf doesn’t want autumn to come to Stony Meadow Farm. Not if it means the cornstalks are cut, the trees lose their leaves, and his bird friends migrate away. Why can’t things just stay the same, he wonders? So he hides out in a place that stays the same: the root cellar.

But Tractor Mac and the rest of his friends help Fergus to realize that there are plenty of fun things about autumn, too, and he learns to appreciate what makes each season special.

Allison Lail talked with a young reader of Tractor Mac books,Calvin Henry Lail, age four.

After reading the latest Tractor Mac book, I asked a few questions of Calvin, and here are a few of his thoughts.

Calvin says his favorite of all Tractor Mac books is the first one: Tractor Mac Arrives at the Farm; then Tractor Mac Teamwork, and third, Tractor Mac Family Reunion with hay baling, a visit to the tractor dealership, and a real farm family.
 
Calvin and his older brother Ethan (9) enjoy the characterization in the TM books, how each character has their own personality.  As we read the books, the illustrations pop out on the pages – as if that particular character is speaking.   There's so much expression and emotions with each farm character. Many of us who have animals and or live on a farm can most certainly relate the characterization of each animal or machine. The clarity in the illustration is well defined, and has become more detailed over the series. The author advances in his drawings, even to the detail of the sunlight coming in through the barn.  

We really enjoy how author Billy Steers uses equipment and farming from years past to give us the history of farming, how times have changed, or to show advances in farm. 

Each member of the farm has specific roles each work as team to support farm life.  Calvin likes the corn picker, the colorful pages, apples, and all characters in this new book. 

In 1999, Billy Steers wrote and illustrated his first Tractor Mac book: Tractor Mac Arrives At The Farm. This book, Autumn Is Here, is the latest in a series of 21 books built around a Farmall M tractor character named Tractor Mac. Tractor Mac works for Farmer Bill at Stony Meadow Farm. He has many animal and vehicle friends on the farm, and he goes on all sorts of adventures, which emphasize the value of friendship and teamwork. Billy’s Tractor Mac stories are inspired by his love of antique machinery, farm life, and his experiences growing up on a small farm in Connecticut.  This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Tractor Mac books!

 The real McCormick Farmall line of tractors were built by International Harvester from the 1920s to 1980s. Farmalls were general purpose tractors, affordable to small and medium-sized family farms, and could do many of the tasks needed on the farm. Thus, Tractor Mac also does a variety of tasks around Stony Meadow Farm.

We had the opportunity to talk with author Billy Steers in September when the book came out. Steers is an enthusiast for old tractors and old agriculture machinery. He enjoys traveling to agriculture fairs and antique machinery shows where he meets fans, signs books, and tells stories.

As a child, Steers began creating pictorial diaries of his daily experiences. He continued developing his artistic talents in college, majoring in geography with an emphasis in cartography, while being a regular cartoonist for the student newspaper at the University of Utah.

After college graduation, Steers was commissioned as a U.S. Air Force officer serving as a pilot, flying numerous missions all over the world. After leaving the Air Force, it was difficult to get work flying commercially, so he took a job as an illustrator for a man who was writing children’s books, but couldn’t keep up with the demand. This man, whose name Steers could not divulge, became his mentor and taught him everything about illustrating books and how to do book layouts. Steers credits this man with helping him develop all the skills he uses now in writing and illustrating his own books.

Growing up, Steers’ parents had a small farm in Roxbury, Connecticut and his father, portrayed as “Farmer Bill” in the Tractor Mac books, raised sheep and chickens. Steers was in 4-H, helped with the sheep and chickens, and also raised and showed horses. He had a Quarter Horse, a Thoroughbred, and two Morgans, he said. “I mucked a lot of stalls,”
Steers remembered. The horses in the book are modeled after his own horses. Although Sibley is a draft horse and Spartan is her nephew, theirs are the names of the two Morgans he had in high school. Growing up with animals, Steers learned how each individual has unique personality traits and character. These personality traits come out in the characters in his books.

Each book also has a lesson or theme, “without being too preachy,” Steers hopes, based on stories he would tell his children when they were younger.  For example, when their team would lose a ball game, the lesson might be about how important are trying and doing, and it’s not always about winning.

Steers is now a commercial airline pilot with American Airlines and for 16 years he flew all over the world. Two years ago he was promoted to Captain and he now flies all over the U.S., but still continues his other career as an illustrator and writer. “I can do a lot of work on the books in hotel rooms,” he said.

There’s also a DVD called “The Tractor Mac Show,” which, at the end, demonstrates the process he goes through to create the story board and the illustrations for each book. And there’s a YouTube demonstration video of how Steers draws Tractor Mac at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4xAS1naH4w

It seems rather simple in this video, but the process is much more involved. Steers said he starts with pencil sketches and goes through at least four to five iterations before inking it. Every time he draws it, it gets larger until it’s the size of the book to be published. Then he has to get it on water color paper. At his home studio he has a back light; but in hotel rooms, he has found he can use windows as backlight and tapes his drawings to the windows.

Steers still lives in Roxbury, Connecticut, just five miles from the farm where he grew up, with his wife Julie, and he has three grown sons.

Something interesting about his books to look for next time you read one: family names are hidden in the books’ drawings. The name Julie appears somewhere on every page. You can also find the names of his three sons: Trip, Willy, and Nate. Look for them!

Find more information about Billy Steers at: http://billysteers.com/

Read more about Farmall tractors at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmall

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