Reena and her little brother, Luke, move to the Maine countryside with their parents. At first they spend their summer riding their bikes around the area, loving the freedom that comes with it. But then their parents “volunteer” both of them to help out on a neighbor’s farm. Mrs. Falala is unusual to say the least. She has all sorts of animals on the farm, including a pig, a cat and a snake, but the one that she needs Reena’s help with most is Zora, a grumpy cow. Slowly, Reena gains Zora’s trust and starts to understand what she needs to be happier. Just as slowly, Luke begins to bond with Mrs. Falala as he works on his drawings alongside her. As these new friendships emerge, new opportunities arise to form connections, learn from one another, and delight in the antics of one ornery cow.
Creech uses a glorious blend of prose and poetry in this novel. The poetry takes concrete form at times but usually is free verse and flows in the way summer days do. The prose reads like poetry at times, blending the two formats even more closely together. The rural Maine setting comes alive in the book, the children experiencing it with great delight that readers will share. Creech captures the emotions of a major move and the wonders and fears of being from the city and landing firmly in farm country.
This is a book with plenty of large characters. Mrs. Falala is a wonderful character, isolated and lonely, she is by turns prickly and warm, a conundrum that also makes perfect sense. From her use of music to express emotion to her willingness to learn to draw, she is an older character with plenty to still learn and even more to share. Then there is Zora, the cow, a creature with more than enough attitude and chutzpah to carry the novel. She is very much an animal version of her owner, though she tends to use hooves and head butts to show her feelings.
A rich narrative and plenty of amazing characters, this novel in prose and verse enchants as it demonstrates the importance of connections and community. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.