Underneath a cow by Carol Ann Martin

cover image

Ill. by Ben Wood. Scholastic, 2015. ISBN 9781742990880
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. Animals, Farms, Safety. When Madge the cow notices a huge dark cloud over the farm, she invites the rabbit to shelter beneath her as the first large rain drops begin to fall. The farm dog passes by and takes shelter as well, then the mother hen and her chicks, while later an echidna rolls under her as well. Each addition causes a little mayhem at the start, but all settle down to shelter from the rain. When the rain stops Madge is presented with some flowers as a thank you and she tells them that what is important is that they are all in a safe place, while sometimes we are the safe place.
This is a charming story about safety, about putting aside differences to take shelter, to work together to be safe, and will encourage younger readers to discuss their safety within this carefully worded text. Martin uses repetition in some parts of the text which will encourage younger readers to predict what is happening next. The song she presents could be used as a learning tool to recite when this book is brought out for rereading.
I love the illustrations, Wood using mixed media and digital means to draw his characters, giving them amazingly human expressions. I adore Madge's udder which seems to leave the dog a little nonplussed, and figures a little more prominently when Spike crawls beneath her. What an introduction for parents and teachers to discuss where milk comes from, as few, if any, picture books show this important part of a cow's anatomy. Discussions too could evolve concerning the farm portrayed, comparing it with other picture books where Australian farms are drawn, and perhaps even discussing why Spike's animal status is not named. Perhaps this book is being aimed at an American market as well?
Whatever group of kids reads this, they will ask for it again and again as they absorb the playful humour of the farm animals sheltering beneath Madge the cow, make up their own song to go with the words and contemplate how they keep themselves safe.
Fran Knight