A great little children's book by author/illustrator Bernard Most (who often works with dinosaurs as his subjects). Behind the sharp lines and bright colors of his drawings (markers) lies a simple, amusing story that teaches an important lesson.
The best way to learn lessons (not only for kids) is through an entertaining medium and many of the best children's books do just that. Forgetting cynical arguments about teaching conformity and monocultural stereotypes and expectations, the lessons from the books we read or are read to us as children often stay with us. Who hasn't thought about the environment after Dr. Seuss' The Lorax (1971) or absorbed the lesson of tolerance and looking beyond appearances in his story "The Sneeches" (1961)? Even older fare, like Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn have much to teach about racism and acceptance, while being entertaining and full of adventure.
Of course, Most's book isn't quite that towering. But fun all the same.
The Cow That Went Oink (1990) is the story of a cow who becomes an outcast among the barnyard animals because she can't "moo." She goes from happily oinking on the first page to a sad look as each animal group mocks her for her inability to speak "cow." Most has the amusing habit of having all the animals make their "animal sounds" when they speak, appended by the message. The cows go "moo-ha," the mouse goes "squeak-ha," even the donkey goes "hee-haw-ha."
None of this is amusing to the poor little cow who cries, softly oinking to herself. Then one day she hears a strange "moo." Not a moo like the other cows, though, because this one comes from a pig. A pig in a similar situation who is alienated because she is unable to oink. So the two seek each other's friendship against the bullying of the other animals.
Then, in the funniest part of the story (and the part thatdone rightwill delight any children being read to), the two attempt to teach each other how to say their respective moos and oinks. This takes a while.
In the end, they become special (they have the last "moo-ha" and "oink-ha") because they are the only animals that are...bilingual.
Big, colorful pictures of cartoony animals and a combination of small word balloons and just enough text to move the story along, Most quietly tells his tale of friendship, acceptance, and cooperation with wit and the brevity that makes it all work. The lesson is assimilated painlessly, all while the reader (or the child being read to) is enjoying himself or herself. A real gem of a book for the beginning reader.
The cow returns in the quasi-sequel Cock-A-Doodle-Moo (1996).
The little cow that could
Despite seeming to have all the typical characteristics for a good children's book, the story behind the "making" of the book is interesting. Most dedicates it to "persistence" and there's good reason.
He first submitted the story back in 1966 and it was rejected 42 times over the years. It wasn't so much the story, for which he got very good response (the reason he kept submitting it), but because he had it in full colorsomething that was more expensive at the time and not many publishers were willing to take that kind of chance on a new writer.
In 1977, he almost got it published (this time making it with three colors) but it got dropped because the publisher was cutting back on children's books. The next year, he had his first two books published (both about dinosaurs). His editor asked for any new ideas and he brought in both versions of the book to her (this same company had rejected the manuscript twice before). As he says on his official site:
She laughed when she read it and took it back with her to the editorial offices in San Diego. The following week she called and said that everyone was "moo-ing" and "oink-ing," and they loved The Cow That Went Oink." They would publish it!
Most put together a final version (a "labor of love") and the rest is history. Several editions came out over the years, a large one, a Spanish language one (he's received many compliments from "English as a Second Language" teacherswhose students can identify with characters' problem),1 a Book-Of-The-Month Club edition, even a Scholastic Book Club version that included a tape of Most narrating his story.
In 1998, after a presentation he gave for the North Carolina International Reading Association, a teacher mentioned to him that there was a television ad promoting reading currently airing in which the governor of the state could be seen reading to school children. The book was The Cow That Went Oink.
1Published in 1996 and titled La Vaca Que Decia Oink. Most notes that the interesting aspect was the way the animal speech changed: "For example, 'moo' becomes 'muu.' 'Hee-haw' becomes 'ji jaaa.' 'Baaa' becomes 'beee.' 'Cock-a-doodle-doo' becomes 'kikirikiii.'" Even more interesting to him was that "oink" remained "oink."
(Source: my own copy; information on Bernard Most from www.bernardmost.com)