Cows (and friends) make everything better.
So Reena discovers when her family decides to leave their big city life and pursue adventure in Maine – in spite of repeated warnings that it’s COLD THERE. (Hi Donna in Maine!! Stay warm!)
Sharon Creech’s love letter to her new home state paints an idyllic scene of welcoming neighbors, hardworking kids, and a slower pace. Reena and her brother Luke are free to bike all around town with no fear, and are welcomed by their peers.
Mrs. Falala, the elderly Italian lady who needs Reena and Luke to help around her homeplace, nearly steals the show with her vibrant personality and menagerie of animals. Both Mrs. Falala and her cow, Zora, are locally famous for being eccentric, yet both really only need some TLC and companionship to soften their rough edges. And Mrs. Falala proves we are never too old to learn something new!
In terms of structure, the story is told in first person by Reena with a mixture of poems and prose. Very short chapters keep the plot moving, while Luke’s sometimes volatile temperament keeps the story from becoming too predictable or trite. Themes of friendship, family, determination, and working toward a goal are undergirded by Creech’s signature heartfelt storytelling and realistic characters. For the record, when I looked online to see how others viewed the book, I was disheartened by many adult reviewers who argued the poems were not of any quality, that the “formatting” of the book and poems were “lazy” for a writer of Creech’s stature. In fact, I was so disheartened by these critiques I’ve held onto my review for a while pondering why I wasn’t bothered by the “lack of depth” or the “bizarre typography” that seemed to offend others.
My conclusions are two-fold: 1. adult readers, as compared to the young readers this book is intended for, do not have the same perspective when it comes to books. I suspect that a well-read adult with extensive experience reading poetry, books told exclusively through poems (Newbery-winning ones especially), and a long attention span would find this book less than enchanting. What I learned from this reading of reviews is to be careful when evaluating and reviewing books myself, because I am not the target audience, and I need to work harder at seeing it through the eyes of someone with less experience. 2. Many people do not have experience with precocious readers or reluctant readers. To me, Moo is a book I can recommend to friends who have younger children already reading at advanced levels because it is a family friendly story that isn’t overwhelming in either emotional distress or text density. I think reluctant readers will like the varying typography, the short chapters, and the concrete poems.
If you know of any kids in 4-H (or were a 4-H’er yourself), the story is somewhat of a tribute to the 4-H way of life. Reena and Luke learn how to care for and show animals from kids and a volunteer who runs a farm dedicated to producing Belted Galloway show cattle. The siblings experience their first county fair and livestock show, and bond with all of the creatures at Mrs. Falala’s farm — with the possible exception of Edna the chicken snake. Yes, there’s a snake named after my grandmother, which I find hilarious, as Edna is the one my stepkids called “Mean Granny.”
The chapter in which the innocent and naive city kids learn where meat comes from is both poignant and funny. In my job I regularly rediscover that broad swaths of people truly do not know how their food is grown or where it comes from.
I gobbled this book in one evening, and loved every minute.
If you have read Moo, please let me know what you think!
Please visit the Poetry Friday round-up at Jama’s Alphabet Soup, where you’re sure to feast your eyes on her wonderful post!