There has been a lot written about the bravery of cows (no, there hasn’t). Some of it has startled us with the sheer audacity of amazing feats of derring-do of which cows are capable (News at 10!). Young children everywhere are pinning up cow posters on their bedroom walls, hoping to one day be as brave as their cow heroes. (Have you looked at your kids’ walls lately? Can you be sure this is not the case?)
In I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!, Jill Esbaum has written a clever picture book with rhyme that works consistently and is a joy to read out loud. She helps us understand one very important thing about bravery: what looks like bravery on the outside can cover up a quivering bowl of scared milk pudding on the inside. By acting brave, the most timid cow can find courage, amaze friends, and explore adventures undreamed. If everything works well, said cow might even feel brave now and then.
Good for giggles, Ms. Esbaum’s poetry includes impressive vocabulary: galumphed, sashayed, cranny, deadfall. In the confines of 32 pages, we find foreshadowing, irony, and a shift in mood from lightheartedness to (cow-flavored) terror and back again. That takes skill.
Gus Gordon’s illustrations are adept, being at once comical and portraying the shifting emotions of our hero, Nadine. With a combination of pencil and crayon, layered collage, and watercolor moving the book from bright daylight to scary night, the trees in his forest are among the most beautiful I’ve seen in books. His facial expressions are worthy of an Oscar. His use of botanical drawings integrates so well into the illustrations that Nadine’s intimidating forest also feels welcoming.
It’s the contradiction about bravery (the outside appearance, the interior pudding) that is so appealing here. Many a reader will recognize themselves in Nadine’s story.
I Am Cow, Hear Me MOO!
written by Jill Esbaum
illustrated by Gus Gordon
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014