Or I Can’t Believe This Moo Book Was Actually Published.
The young Moose, at 18 months, likes to read his books. At the moment he is a big fan of anything by Sandra Boynton, Chugga Chugga Choo Choo by Kevin Lewis and Who Goes Moo?, a touch and feel book published by Make Believe Ideas, Ltd., with no author credited. Probably they were too embarrassed by the final product to admit it came from anyone on their staff.
As you can guess from that last sentence, I have complaints. As the author of Who Goes Moo? might say: Let’s see if you can spot them too!
Here is the relevant text:
Horse likes eating grass and hay. He gallops fast and gives a neigh!
Duck has feathers on her back. She swims around and likes to quack!
Pig is pink and wants to play. He loves to eat and oink all day!
Cow just loves to smile at you. She nibbles grass and likes to moo!
Sheep’s the softest friend by far. She jumps about and gives a baa!
There are, in fact, two problems (not counting the banality) with this extract. The most obvious one is the fake rhyme in the last couplet. “Far” does not rhyme with “baa”. You might be able to get away with saying “…softest friend by faa” in places like Boston, where they are fairly careless with their “r”s. But if you’re not from Boston, you are simply annoyed.
Because I am perverse, I find myself giving alternate readings to that line. Sometimes I say: Sheep’s the softest friend by far. She jumps about and gives a bar! and sometimes I say: Sheep’s the softest friend by faa. She jumps about and gives a baa! (Which is no doubt setting up The Moose for future speech therapy.)
The other problem is the inconsistency in the format of the couplets. Ideally, (and, indeed, as the author started out to do) the first word of the first sentence names the animal; the last word of the second sentence is the animal noise. This is a developmentally appropriate structure for little ones. It naturally puts the emphasis on the animal name and sound.
To make this work, the author needs to find rhymes for the animal noises. All correct on hay and neigh, and on back and quack.
But, with the introduction of a pig, the scheme is de-railed, as there is no rhyme in English for “oink.” As an editor I would have pointed this out and suggested there are other animals to work with, such as turkeys or donkeys or dogs or cats or mice or even bees. Instead, the author’s solution is to move “oink” into the middle of the second sentence and rhyme play and day. Perhaps this author had a thing for pigs.
With the fourth couplet’s rhyme of you and moo, we are back to animal at the beginning, noise at the end. And then, just when things seem to be going along nicely, we are introduced to the sheep, and that silly, forced, pseudo-rhyme. I admit it isn’t easy to find an English rhyme for “baa.” Straw? Faugh? Claw? Law? Thaw? Saw? Mama? Lockjaw? Jigsaw? Grandpa? Scofflaw? Baklava?
But, if the publishers weren’t worried about structural consistency with the pig, surely they can afford the same courtesy to the sheep and come up with a less embarrassing line. Even I, who wasn’t paid a dime to do it, didn’t find it all that hard. How about:
Sheep jumps about in the summer sun. She says baa when she’s having fun.
Sheep jumps about in springtime clover. She says baa when the game is over!
Not deathless prose and a bit wonky in the meter; but then Cow just loves to smile at you. She nibbles grass and likes to moo! is hardly the stuff of the classics, either.
And still, I’m not done with my complaints: The touch and feel bits appear to be afterthoughts. They are completely disconnected with both the text and reality – if reality can play into a book like Who Goes Moo?.
On the front cover, the cow has a patch of very soft, fluffy cottony material. Although this is a fine texture for a baby to feel, cows aren’t all that soft.
The horse has an ultra-suede tail. Not like a horses’ tail at all. How about a nice yarn-based mane, instead?
The duck has a vinyl orange bill – when the text specifically draws attention to “feathers on the back”
The pig has some pink flocking on his tummy. Do pigs really feel flocked? How about a sticky patch of brown mud, instead?
The cow has some kind of a collar that looks to be made out of the same vinyl as the duck’s bill. Hmmm. Do you think of collars when you think of cows?
Sheep is billed as being the “softest” friend by far – and yet she is made up of rough, hard, sparkly swirls. It seems to me that this would be the perfect place for the soft bit of fleece that’s on the cover cow. Among other recommendations I have is that the illustrator needs to spend more time playing touch and feel with real animals, and try again.
I should add, lest anyone think The Moose is a dimwit: his love of the book is due solely to the picture tabs and flipping the pages – usually before I can finish reading what’s there.
You read all the time how it is hard to get a children’s book published; how you have to be a really gifted writer; how you shouldn’t attempt rhyme unless you are especially talented; how you shouldn’t talk down to children; how you need to be consistent and appropriate. This specimen, with its lack of attention to detail, fails miserably in all categories and you have to wonder how “it came to see the light of day, when really, the author just needs to go away.” A classic, it is not.
Fortunately The Moose is growing fast and we will be graduating soon to real classics like Chicken Soup with Rice, Harry the Dirty Dog, and that truly wonderfully silly book of moo: Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You?