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Friday, December 19, 2014

Audrey (Cow), written by Dan Bar-el and illustrated by Tatjana Mai-Wyss. Tundra Books, 2014. $ 21.99 ages 8 and up

"First time out of the barn, Audrey was talking about going to the farthest fields and tasting this grass or that clover, or maybe talking to a passing fox. Imagine, talking to a common thief! I'd been here a lot longer than she had, but I never ventured past the first hill. And why should I? Plenty of grass nearby - who needs to go farther?"

Your life will be better for having met Audrey! She is a Charolais with big dreams - her heritage is, after all, French. We meet her first through the voices of the animals who share her farm home. They each have an opinion about who Audrey is, and don't mind sharing it. Her best friend is Eddie, a sheep dog, who has been with Audrey since birth. Eddie is her staunch supporter; when the going gets tough, Eddie steps up and lends a paw for anything she might need. His father is not totally pleased with Eddie's loyalty to the cow. He has his say, and then lets Eddie do what he thinks he must. Then, there is Roy, a horse. Roy keeps track of all the goings-on in the farmyard, and shares what he knows.

The farm family works hard. Cows are raised to provide meat and milk. That being said, it is the lot of some of them to be sent to Abbott's War, which is quite the scary proposition. Others have gone before Audrey, including her mother. Audrey wants more from life. With help from her farm friends, including the brilliant pig Buster, she plans an escape from the truck that is being sent to take her away.

The escape plan works; Audrey is able to break away from the truck and head into the forest. It is a brand new world, and she finds herself alone and frightened by it. As she makes her way down forest pathways, she realizes that there is much to see and to explore, new animals to make friends with, and others who see her in the same light as the farmer did. The darkness and unfamiliar territory causes untold worry and concern, as do those humans who are trying to track her down.  Audrey has a poetic heart and a longing to be more than meat in the supermarket, and she is going to do her best to avoid that lot in life. As her story progresses, more voices are added to the mix. Each wants to share a personal perspective on Audrey's attempt to shape her own destiny. She manages to evade capture for a good long while.

The personalities and voices are unique and very entertaining. Dan Bar-el makes each singular and absolutely believable, making this a tale that would make a wonderful readaloud for family story times and for classroom sharing. The illustrations add interest and provide a warmth that is totally in keeping with the text they accompany. The first-person narratives are short, and move the story along quickly. Funny, captivating, thoughtful and very cleverly written, this is a tale that will find a place in your heart and live long in your memory.

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