Goodreads: Audrey (Cow)
Published: 11 Nov. 2014
Audrey the cow lives an idyllic life on Bittersweet Farm until the day her mother is taken to be turned into hamburger–and Audrey learns that the same fate awaits her. Audrey, however, has new fields to graze, new clover to taste. She even hopes to make it to France, the land of her ancestors. So, along with the help of her friends, Audrey comes up with a plan for a daring escape. But can she lead a life in the wild or will the authorities hunt her down?
Audrey may strike some as “Charlotte’s Web with a cow” or it may seem off-putting when the cover jacket announces that over two dozen animals and humans narrate the story. To dismiss the book so quickly, however, would be to do it an injustice. Audrey is its own joyful, uplifting book full of humor, heart, and spunk–and it surprisingly justifies its narrative choice within the first couple pages. Had you told me before I read it, that I would be enthralled by the journey of a cow, I might not have believed you–but oh how I now wish for a sequel.
The book starts off a bit confusingly, for the perspectives do not switch every chapter or every couple pages, but every paragraph–sometimes sooner. At first this is slightly annoying. After all, how can one get to know Madge the cow, much less remember her, if she only gets a few sentences before the dog starts talking? And who is this dog anyway? Why is he speaking? Thoughts like these swirled around my head for awhile, distracting me from the story, but once I became accustomed to the shifts and started to get a feel for the characters, I appreciated the structure. Dan Bar-el does not use it merely to be different, but really tells the story through it–who tells what part of the story and what they choose to reveal and what they gloss over proves significant. Furthermore, Bar-el allows the animals and humans to interrupt each other. Sometimes the interruptions are humorous, but they are always telling.
The characters themselves are nearly all likable, even the cows who gossip and the cougar who has a hankering for beef. Their narrations reveal a lot about them, from their word choices to the parts of the story they choose to focus on. Even the animals who appear only briefly make a mark. And how clever Bar-el is with his characterizations! From Buster the pig who loves to solve riddles to the rooster who loves to make speeches, all of them are vividly drawn. Perhaps my favorite secondary characters, however, are the sheep, who make quite a point of noting their intelligence and discussing their sheep articles and how they impose their “collective will” to make statements of principle. Who knew that the seemingly mindless wanderings of sheep were actually so deep!
The illustrations add a lot to the story, making the characters come alive with through their expressions and attitudes. Often the pictures are humorous, as when we see Audrey practicing her escape attempts by balancing on a beam. Sometimes, however, they seem more reflective. They always add to the story, however; they are not mere decoration.
Audrey is a true treat of a story and I loved following the titular cow on her bold adventure to go where few cows had gone before and to make poetry out of a life doomed to end shortly on the supermarket shelf. Her tenacity, hope, and kindness drive the story, so that a little something of her zest for life seems to transfer itself to the reader–and help them to see the poetry all around, too.