BookPage Children's Top Pick, November 2014
First there was Wilbur the pig. Then there was Ivan the shopping mall gorilla. Now there’s Audrey the cow.
Farmer Glenn might think Audrey is a food cow, but according to Audrey, she’s a poet cow, a white Charolais who can appreciate the finer things in life, like landscapes to admire and flowers to eat. More than two dozen distinct voices, including cows, dogs, sheep, pigs, deer and humans, take turns relating what happens as Audrey draws on her dead mother’s tales—and her farmyard friends’ resourcefulness—to plan a daring escape.
Like Katherine Applegate in her Newbery Medal-winning The One and Only Ivan, author Dan Bar-el starts with a true story and expands on it, granting voices and agency to his animal characters. Also like Ivan, occasional black-and-white drawings (here by Tatjana Mai-Wyss) add visual interest and help emerging readers relate to the unusual narrators.
Elementary school readers can cheer for Audrey’s quest while an older audience can giggle at the clever wordplay: The French-derived word for slaughterhouse, abattoir, is misheard by the animals as “Abbot’s War,” and gossip literally comes from the horse’s mouth. Don’t stop to question who exactly these voices are talking to—or why people seem to have cell phones at some opportune moments but not others—because doing so would spoil the fun of this gentle tale. Instead, focus on the postmodern storytelling, the perfect combination of humor and pathos and the determination of a cow who isn’t willing to give up.