Twelve year old Reena and her seven year old brother Luke like in the big city with all its noise and smells and fun things to do. However when Reena's parents lose their jobs at the newspaper, her mother suggests that they consider moving. Reena suggests they move to Maine. It is a suggestion immediately accepted by her mother because her parents met in Maine.But Reena is not happy.
Their move to Maine is not well received by her families' friends. But they pack up and move to a small harbor town with "gentle mountains" opposite the harbor and around it. There they rent a
"small old house
with a woodstove inside
and an apple tree outside..."
Reena and Luke ride their bikes
"discovering our new town
its people and dogs and old houses
its winding lanes and gnarled trees."
They also see a farm with what Luke calls "Oreo cows", black and white cows which are black at both ends and a white belt in the middle. The girl in farm field tells them they are called Belted Galloways. As it would happen, Reena and Luke would pass the farm, Birchmere Farm every day on their bikes. The cows were a bit frightening to Reena but she noted that every day teenagers came to work on the farm. Reena's brother Luke loved to draw but now his superhero characters have morphed into farmer-like people.
Just before the farm, on the edge of town, on Twitch Street, sits the house of Mrs. Falala, an old lady who by the towns people owned at least a cow and a pig. Reena and her brother often hear the sound of a flute coming through the open attic window. One day Reena's father takes her and her brother to visit Mrs. Falala, but the visit does not go well. A menacing cat and a "fat black hog" greet them. Reena's dad brings Mrs. Falala two books, which turn out not to be what she wants.
Meanwhile, Reena's mother finds a job teaching English at a private school near their town, but her father is still looking for work. Reena and Luke are sent back to Mrs. Falala's with more books. This time they encounter fourteen seagulls on top of the roof and a long black snake "slithering along the gutter". Mrs. Falala hauls them into the house. The books are somewhat better, but Mrs. Falala admonishes Luke sucking his thumb and tries to flick it out of his mouth. This leads to Luke telling her not to touch him and Reena tell her to leave him alone. Mrs. Falala yells at them to leave immediately. By the time they reach home, their parents have heard what happened and they tell Reena and Luke that Mrs. Falala claims they were disrespectful to her. This leads Reena and Luke's mom to visit Mrs. Falala by herself. When she returns she tells Reena that Mrs. Falala is very charming and that Reena and Luke can really help Mrs. Falala. They will start tomorrow.
Moo is a delightful novel that tells the story of two young children who are volunteered by their parents to help an elderly, eccentric woman. In doing so they begin to fit into their new life and come to love the strange but kindly Mrs. Falala.
Creech tells her story in free verse that captures the essence of the emotions of Reena and her brother as they navigate this challenging time in their lives. At first Reena is reluctant to move away from the city. Reena states that she is
"full of buses and subways
and traffic and tall buildings
and crowds of people
and city noises
honking and sirens and
and city smells
bakeries and car exhaust
hot dogs and coffee
and city lights so bright..."
"Would I know what to do
and how to be
However, when Reena and her family arrive in their small harbor town, she almost immediately finds good things about it - the wide sidewalks and quiet, curving lanes allow her and Luke to ride their bikes everywhere and discover their new town. One of those discoveries is learning about cows, which Reena states she thought were like "a LARGE lamb; soft, furry, gentle, uttering sweet sounds." However she quickly discovers they have large heads, enormous noses and make deep, loud mooing sounds. They also have slobbery mouths. And, quite frankly, they scare her.
And then Reena meets Zora, Mrs. Falala's cow. At first she's terrified of the cow as Zora's obstinate nature proves to be challenging. She butts both Reena and Luke and refuses to go where they lead her. But Mrs. Falala insists the children care for Zora and that they show her at the fairs. Mrs. Falala tells Reena that Zora is uncooperative because she doesn't know her and that she needs to introduce herself to Zora.
Gradually Reena forms a bond with Zora, learning how to care for her and how to show her. No longer is Reena afraid and instead she comes to believe that the cow is lonely. Although Zora remains temperamental the bond deepens and a sort of trust forms between the animal and Reena. By the end of the story, Reena is describing Zora as "that stubborn, crazy, belligerent, sweet, sweet heifer." She recognizes the good and bad qualities of Zora's nature and even uses the correct term to describe her "cow".
Likewise, Luke develops a bond with Mrs. Falala. Luke loves to draw and while Reena has been caring for Zora, Luke has been teaching Mrs. Falala to draw. Zora and Mrs. Falala help Reena and Luke adjust to their new life in a rural town. They learn new skills and make new friends. And eventually Reena's family is given a very different life through an unexpected tragedy.
As it turns out, Mrs. Falala was likely looking for someone to take over her farm and Reena's family seemed like a possibility. When she passes away, Reena and her family are not only saddened but wonder what will happen to the animals and the farm. Creech provides her readers with a satisfying, heart-warming ending.
Moo is a lovely short novel that would make a great class read-aloud and would interest young readers who enjoy books about animals.
Picture attribution: By Amanda Slater from Coventry, England - Belted Galloway, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4855943
Moo by Sharon Creech
New York: Joanna Cotler Books 2016