Monday, October 3, 2011


By Tim Egan

(Houghton Mifflin, 1996)

I don’t know why, but boys like cows. They find them funny. Last year, I supported a grade four writing group and one boy insisted on adding at least one cow to every story. Before long, other boys were creating cow characters. They enjoyed making others laugh from their writing and one of the easiest gags was to think of a human action and make a cow do it instead. The Far Side’s Gary Larsen would approve.

I picked up Metropolitan Cow from the local library simply because of the title and the cover image of a cow family, each member standing on two legs and dressed as cows would before heading out for a night at the symphony. I am confident the cover will catch a young reader’s attention. The story, however, has an important message, though Tim Egan provides cheeky commentary to keep the reader smiling.

Bennett Gibbons is a young cow living a life of privilege. All is well except there is no one for him to play with near his urban abode. All the other cows are significantly older and mud-sloshing pigs are…well, they’re pigs. Cows play with cows, pigs play with pigs.

Things change when a pig family becomes the new neighbors. Bennett befriends Webster the pig who is roughly the same age and has the same interests. When the two are outside, Webster suggests they jump in the mud, but Bennett echoes his parents’ long-established directive. “I can’t. I’m too dignified.” Webster asks, “What does that mean?” to which Bennett replies, “I have no idea.”

The two continue to hang out while avoiding the temptation of frolicking in the mud. One day, however, with his parents watching, Bennett can resist no more. Who wouldn’t want to play in the mud? This, of course, causes grave concern. This is why cows don’t play with pigs.

Metropolitan Cow is a story of prejudice, opinions forming from lack of contact with groups deemed different. It may be skin color, religion, family structure (think Benny Has Two Bucks) or first language. Bennett and Webster are typical youngsters. They are open to acceptance, but susceptible to following inexplicable rules that continue to keep those who are different at bay. Sometimes, as in this story, the adults need to learn from the younger generation.

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