Roberta Tonn: Hospitality for Baby Lambs and for a Kid Down the Road

Farmer Herman and the Flooding Barn is new children’s book about 344 people working together to solve a big problem and is illustrated by 344 different people who are counting on the power of unity to bring hope to over 400,000 kids in foster care. This is the 4th in a series of posts about just a few of those illustrators.

I grew up just outside of a small town in Kansas. While my family lived on a small farm, my parents didn’t farm for a living. About 2 miles down the road from us, there was a couple about the age of my grandparents named Bob and Roberta. They farmed in nearly every way imaginable. In addition to crop farming, they raised chickens, pigs, and sheep.

Lots and lots of sheep.

I spent quite a bit of time at their house. It was a kids dream. I would ride on the tractor with Bob. I would help Roberta gather eggs from the chicken coop, feed the pigs, and make baskets of food to take out to the men in the field. One of my favorite things to do was to help her feed newborn sheep with a Pepsi bottle (don’t worry — we fed them milk, not Pepsi). This became necessary when the mamas of these lambs couldn’t produce enough milk.

One of the things I remember most usually happened when my mom came to pick me up. There was always a good-natured argument between the two of them. My mom always wanted to pay her for watching me and Roberta would insist that she not do that. They would go back and forth and it happened all the time. All I know is that it made me feel so welcomed there. Every kid should feel that.

The thing Roberta modeled for me was the centuries-old biblical mandate to practice hospitality. It’s the idea that our homes are not simply intended to provide shelter for us and our families. Our homes are meant to be a place where others are welcomed with enthusiasm.  And while Roberta has never done foster care, she helped to teach me how.

Needless to say I was thrilled when Roberta agreed to do a drawing for Farmer Herman and Flooding Barn. She, of course, drew a sheep.

This past fall, she turned 90.   I was in town recently and got to have breakfast with her. And when I arrived at the restaurant, I could not have felt more welcomed. Some things never change.

To learn more about Farmer Herman and the Flooding Barn, the accompanying classroom kit materials, and how to find your fit in foster care, go to