Saturday, March 30, 2013

Click, Clack, Moo!

Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin is a favorite among my elementary school students.  They love the repetition of the words “click, clack, moo; click, clack, moo; clickety-clack, moo” and will often read that part for me during a read aloud.  They giggle through much of the book.  What makes this book so funny?

I think perhaps what makes Click Clack Moo so unique and funny is that these are farm animals living where we expect them to live:  on a farm.  The cows and the hens are in the barn.  The ducks are in their pond.  They demonstrate a few crucial human characteristics, but otherwise are perfectly normal cows, hens and ducks.  Unlike other stories where animals exhibit human characteristics, these animals do not attend school, they do not live in houses, and they do not speak English.  The cows speak Moo and they produce milk.  The ducks live in a pond.  The hens produce eggs.  For the most part, they act as one might expect cows, hens and ducks to act.  Except for one small issue:  they think and they type.  They make demands and they act as neutral parties.  They go on strike!

Click Clack Moo is a Caldecott Honor book.  The illustrations are unique and arresting.  They capture the attention with sprawling, painted images.  The image of the cow quite daintily typing away on a small typewriter (and later, the ducks doing the same) is hilarious.  The image of the note from the cows tacked to the barn down overlaid with Farmer Browns silhouette is amazing.  The image of fury is there, without actually seeing Farmer Brown at all.  And of course, what child doesnt love the gigantic picture of the cows backside, with a hen peaking from under the cow, both of them watching Farmer Brown in the background read the note?  Every page has a picture the title page has a picture of a typewriter and the copyright and second title page have a picture of cows sprawling across the two-page spread,  Even the final, end page, has a payoff picture a ducks backside disappearing into the water, having sprung there from a diving board.  It becomes clear, as one analyzes the pictures, why this particular book won the Caldecott.

I have always wanted to have the opportunity to use this remarkable childrens book in a high school or even college class.   However, as I have only ever taught elementary school students (and middle school ESL students), I have never had the opportunity to teach this book to his fullest potential.  Of course, with my students, we discuss the power of the written word (of literacy), the concepts of bargaining and being neutral, and the results of this very specific negotiation.  However, we are not able to discuss some of the other, perhaps more subtle, but also more interesting aspects of this work the cows and hens are female and Farmer Brown is male (a gender role discussion perhaps re the power of the male over the female workers?)  The cows and hens, in effect, unionize for basic rights, and they strike when they do not receive what they want.  Ultimately, however, the most intriguing aspect of this work (and the one aspect of it that I never liked) is that Farmer Brown ultimately wins.  Yes, he has to give in and purchase blankets and a diving board, but the cows and the ducks, in order to receive these things, have given up their voices.  The typewriter is the one tool in their arsenal that provides them a means to escape their fate, and they blithely give it up.  I find this to be a very intriguing book, with so many layers to peel away.  Whoever said that picture books are only for children never read this particular book!

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