I love verse novels and, with every review I write of one I search for the perfect analogy to describe the experience of reading one and continue to fall short, but will try one more time. This summer, my older son and I became obsessed with green tea mochi. These sweet, fragrantly floral little treats can be eaten in two (or even one) bites and pack immense but delicate flavor, leaving you feeling like you have eaten a much bigger desert. Reading a verse novel, I am always amazed at the ability of an author to tell a richly vivid story with deftly drawn characters and an engaging chain of events with less than half the words used in a traditional novel. I can read a verse novel in one or two bites - I mean one or two sittings - and come away feeling like I have eaten, I mean read, a larger, longer, bigger work.
MOO by Sharon Creech is the fourth verse novel I have reviewed by this multiple award winning author and possibly my favorite. In each of her verse novels, which often uses concrete poems to emphasize an emotion or experience of one of the characters, Creech's characters deal with losses and MOO is no different. Twelve-year-old Reena and her seven-year-old brother Luke are uprooted when their parents, in the wake of a job loss, decide to move from New York City to a small town in Maine. When their mother, a reporter who has made a career of talking to strangers, volunteers the two to help out their new neighbor, it seems like she has made a huge mistake. Their elderly neighbor Mrs. Falala is strange. She has a long grey braid, a curious collection of animals (including a snake named Edna) and a curt manner that scares Luke the first time they meet at her house on Twitch Street.
While afternoons with Mrs. Falala are dark, the siblings enjoy the freedom of living in a small town, riding their bikes and watching the cows on the nearby dairy farm where they befriend Beat and Zep, two teens who work on the farm and educate them about the belted Galloway cows there. Soon, Reena is finding her way around Mrs. Falala's menagerie, including Zora, a formerly prize winning belted Galloway with a bad attitude as big as she is. Zep and Beat give Reena tips on how to win over Zora and prepare her to be shown at the fair while Luke seems to be winning over Mrs. Falala by teaching her to draw.
A happy day for Reena and Luke ends with sadness, but a silver lining emerges. The passage at the end of MOO where the children walk through Mrs. Falala's home, discovering a hallway filled with her drawings, showing her progression as an artist, will stay with me always. Once again, Creech has written a novel that is filled with emotions and experiences, ups and downs, that are unexpectedly marvelous. Who would have thought that a novel that beings with an ornery, slobbering, filthy cow named Zora would lead to such a beautiful, memorable story?
Verse Novels by Sharon Creech
Source: Review Copy