CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 6. . . .October 10, 2014
Audrey (cow): An Oral Account of a Most Daring Escape, Based More or Less on a True Story.
Dan Bar-el. Illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2014.
232 pp., hardcover & epub, $21.99.
ISBN 978-1-77049-602-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-77049-404-0 (epub).
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.
Gosh, I'd have to say kind. She was really kind. And sweet too! That's two words, isn't it? May I use two words? Because I would have to say she was both really kind and really sweet and beautiful too...
I reckon I'd have to say plucky. She was a pretty l'il thing, but underneath that soft hide was one brave gal.
How would I briefly describe myself? I'm afraid I am not a cow of few words. Mother once said that my heart speaks a mile a minute, by which she meant that emotions can get the best of me, and then I am off to the races, conversation-wise...
Using over thirty narrative voices, award-winning author Dan Bar-el tells the story of Audrey, a rather special Charolais cow with a gift for poetry who dreams of going to places which do NOT include the dreaded "Abbot's War".
With the help of creatures inside and outside Bittersweet Farm (including a pig, skunk, rooster, cougar, racoon and a mama and baby deer), an elaborate plan is concocted to rescue AUDREY from her certain fate. Despite the intervention of several humans, including the truck driver, a reporter and Humphrey the Wildlife Enforcement Officer, the animals succeed in their mission to free Audrey and (incidentally) to spearhead the creation of Fay's Sanctuary where mistreated and misunderstood animals can live out their lives in peace and comfort.
Bar-el cleverly finds a special voice for each creature-speaker which makes its personality and character type perfectly clear to the reader. His sociological and psychological insights into farmyard and city life, wryly amusing as they may be for adults and more sophisticated readers, are likely to go over the heads of younger listeners. However, AUDREY (cow) is a not-to-be missed book which treats themes of life and death and friendship in a manner both wise and light-hearted.
The title page of AUDREY (cow) notes that the tale is “An Oral Account of a Most Daring Escape Based More or Less on a True Story.” Later, in the acknowledgements, the reader learns that the inspiration for this story was a Charolais cow known as Cinncinati Freedom who, in 2002, escaped the slaughterhouse by jumping a six foot fence and running into a wooded park. Her adventure ended happily, as did Audrey's, in a Farm Sanctuary. Young readers will be pleased at the similar outcome for both real and fictional cows!
As a read-aloud, the book will be something of a challenge (but also fun) for the adult reader to "perform" in front of an audience of 7 to 10-year-olds. Some subtleties will certainly go over their heads, but the story is guaranteed to hook even the wiggliest of listeners.
Tatjana Mai-Wyass' appealing black and white drawings do an excellent job of conveying the traits of the characters as well as the humour of the text.
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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