Prior to my daughter being born, someone insisted that we purchase a copy of the Sandra Boynton’s book and CD, Philadelphia Chickens, an “imaginary musical revue.” Coming in a single package, Philadelphia Chickens features many distinctly odd songs, things like “Pig Island” (it’s about a great island for pigs and is performed by Scott Bakula), “Faraway Cookies” (a torch song for cookies performed by Caitlin McEwan), and the titular “Philadelphia Chickens” (it’s about the chickens and is performed by The Bacon Brothers). Our daughter wasn’t quite old enough for songs prior to her birth, so we put it on the shelf for a little while, but we soon also found ourselves stocking up on other Boynton books. She has written such classics as Moo Baa La La La (the first book I read enough times in a row to completely memorize), But Not the Hippopotamus (the second book I read enough times in a row to completely memorize), and the Belly Button Book (oh, it’s awesome, and the song sung as part of the book appears on Philadelphia Chickens).
All of that is really to say that Sandra Boynton writes weird books, but they’re a good weird. Her chosen topic is, virtually without exception, animals – hippos, pigs, dogs, rhinos, moose, and cows – and her books, while certainly enjoyable for children, don’t work exclusively for the younger set. No, Boynton’s writing is the exact sort that makes adults happy to read to their children. The stories may not contain much of a narrative, but nor are they supposed to – they are odd ideas mixed with clever jokes, and have a sense of whimsy to them that is not often found anywhere.
Boynton is now out with her latest title, Amazing Cows: Udder Absurdity for Children, and it sticks with her tried-and-true crazy-animal-stuff formula. The book does, as the title indicates, focus on cows, but cows are not its exclusive subject; there are chickens and pigs within its pages and the occasional hippo also puts in an appearance. The work is not a single story, but a rather a collection of stories, jokes, poems, a comic book, and even a cow fashion spread (really). In short, it can be placed squarely within Boynton’s usual genre and, happily, as with her other works, will provide endless hours of amusement for those young and old.
In trying to understand the arrangement of the book’s contents it may be easiest to consider it more like a magazine. Indeed, it is roughly magazine-sized and there are even pretend advertisements within its pages (but what I wouldn’t give if there was an actual book called Cowleidoscopes which featured 152 different formations I could teach my cows to make). Opening Amazing Cows up, one can flip to nearly any page and not be too far from the start of a story, joke, or perhaps the cow fashion layout (I promise you there is actually a cow fashion layout in the book).
Trying to describe, specifically, a typical Boynton tale like those found in Amazing Cows and elsewhere is not the easiest of tasks. How should one bring up the story of the 137 cows who lived together on a farm “in North Dakota or something” and 80 of whom were named Tino? It may not sound terribly intriguing to say that when three chickens visited the farm they all decided to play a game of Red Rover, but I promise you, when you sit and read it, you will be completely engrossed.
The reason Boynton’s tales, songs, and jokes work clearly rests solely with Boynton herself. One gets the sense reading her work that this is an amazingly smart and funny individual, one who is truly in touch with her inner chicken, and who wants nothing more than to spread the happiness that hippopotamuses bring. On the surface of a Boynton book everything seems so easy and flows so well, but it is clear that a lot of work has gone into perfecting things, things like the surfing cow limerick in Amazing Cows. Boynton illustrates her stories herself, and they serve as the perfect accompaniment to the tales she weaves.
I cannot overstate the vast quantities of amusement to be garnered from Amazing Cows (which comes with a link to a free downloadable song, even if the book recommends against downloading the song). Anyone thinking about putting a book for a younger child (or those who, in general, like to read weird, funny things) under the Christmas tree this year would do very well consider Boynton’s latest.