Monday, December 12, 2016


Disclaimer: I liked this book before I even read a word of it.

Why? Because I love Sharon Creech. She's like Jerry Spinelli for me. I will never dislike a Spinelli novel or a Sharon Creech novel. I can't explain it so I might as well lead with it. For Spinelli, it's a thing of nostalgia. I loved his novels as a kid. For Creech, it's something different. I didn't discover Creech until I was a school teacher and I got so much joy out of studying her novels WALK TWO MOONS and LOVE THAT DOG in my 5th grade classroom that both are still permanent staples of my curriculum. Former students often return to visit and many reminisce about WALK TWO MOONS. Creech is an author with a distinct voice, like Spinelli, like DiCamillo. You know when you are reading a Creech book by the feel of it.

In MOO, 12-year-old Reena and her seven-year old brother Luke have moved with their parents to Maine. Leaving their busy life in New York City behind for a quieter setting requires some adjusting but it doesn't take long for Reena and Luke's interest to be piqued in Beat and Zep, two odd but friendly, teenage farmhands. Beat and Zep soon come in handy, because Reena and Luke's parents volunteer them to help their elderly neighbor Mrs. Falala with her farm chores, which includes looking after a stubborn cow, Zora.

MOO is written in the same freeform, verse-style of poetry as LOVE THAT DOG and HATE THAT CAT. Fans of those two novels will surely love this book too. Instead of Sky, the yellow dog, or a stray black cat, we have Zora, an Oreo-cookie Belted Galloway cow. The text isn't as much straight forward verse like those two books. There is more of a mix of prose and verse. Creech plays around with the arrangement of her words and their font styles and sizes, making the most out of the space available on each page.

Reena's relationship with her younger brother Luke is sweet. These are two easy going, good-natured kids who embrace the change their family is experiencing and they dig in with both hands (literally) to help the transition go smoothly. They appreciate each other and they look out for one another as they soak in their new surroundings together. It was refreshing to read a relationship like this, instead of one of sibling rivalry like you can find in so many other children's novels today. Reena and Luke are siblings, but friends above all else, and you get the sense that they would be able to adjust to, and make the most out of any change their parents thrust upon them.

I connected with the humor in Reena and Luke learning how the farm functions. I grew up in a rural community, but not on a farm. Farm life was more foreign to me than it should have been given that most of my friends and classmates lived on farms. The humor in the novel eventually subsides and routine is established. Reena's own determination to break through to Zora, the stubborn cow, eventually gives way to genuine love for the animal and this is mirrored in Luke and Mrs. Falala's relationship as he teachers her how to sketch the animals on her farm.

A little more depth could have been added to this story by exploring Mrs. Falala's background. There are a number of unanswered questions at the close of the story. The reader is able to infer much about her past but concrete answers are not given. Despite this, MOO was a comfortable, enjoyable read. I'd really say the same about any Creech novel though.

On a side note...

Here is another example of my bias reading this book. No, that is not Reena. That is in fact, Mrs. H, my wife! Interestingly enough, she is 11-years old in this photo, close to Reena's age in the novel. That trophy in her hand was her prize after showing her cow at our County Fair. I remember sitting in the stands with my younger sister (not in this particular year but in later years), watching her, knowing nothing about what she was doing but being in awe regardless. I don't remember her ever having to struggle through a showing like Reena does with Zora, but it was hard work nonetheless, and lots of hours were devoted to preparation.