At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I’m deep into packing to move to a new house in a couple of weeks. Lucky for me, my friend and fellow author, Melinda Johnson, has agreed to post this month’s reviews.
Melinda’s most recent book, SHEPHERDING SAM, is a middle grade novel about a boy named Sam and a corgi pup named Saucer. Sam and Saucer will be returning later this year in a sequel novel.
Take it away, Melinda!
Minnie and Moo: I Can Read Books by Dennys Cazet
Have you read the Minnie and Moo books by Dennys Cazet? They’re not new, but you can find them easily in your public library or online. The snort-out-loud funny adventures of these two very human cows should be part of everyone’s better childhood memories.
Best enjoyed on a battered sofa with someone nearby who likes to hear the funny bits read aloud, these stories show Cazet to be master of the art of using simple language well. The books are humorous on two levels, making them as much fun for an adult reading them to small children as they are to the early readers who venture into their pages independently.
Minnie and Moo are proud members of the I Can Read Books collection, in which they bear a level 3 “Reading Alone” rating. The type is large, there is space between lines of text, and there are usually 4 – 8 lines of text per page. Around the words are wonderfully silly illustrations of Minnie and Moo, providing color and extra humor, and supporting comprehension of the story.
One of my favorite things about the humor in these books is how well it plays to the readers’ developmental age. Minnie and Moo are much smarter than the average cow, but not so smart as the child reading about them. They get into crazy situations because they are fearless and imaginative, but they misunderstand or ignore commonsense things that young readers will pick up easily. In the many happy hours I’ve spent reading and hearing about these books, I’ve seen over and over again that a child will laugh hard when she “gets it” and the cows don’t. For example, in one of our favorites, Minnie and Moo and the Musk of Zorro, the two cows find what they believe to be Zorro’s secret weapon buried in a trunk in their barn. They begin by getting a word wrong (“Mama, it’s not the musk of Zorro, it’s supposed to be the mask!”), and it goes downhill from there.
Minnie took a spray can out of the trunk.
“Oh, Minnie,” said Moo.
“Could it be?” Minnie asked.
Moo looked at the can.
“What does it say?” asked Minnie.
“Hmm,” muttered Moo, “something about armpits.”
Minnie pushed the spray button.
The can hissed and filled the air with a sweet smell.
“The musk of Zorro!” Minnie gasped.
Belly laughs ensue, but there is also an empowering satisfaction in knowing why it’s funny. Children in the early reader stage are still figuring out how humor is made. As every parent knows, the first years of joke-making are often as confusing to the joker as they are to the audience. Children are used to laughing, but also to being uncertain why other people are laughing with or at them. It is easy to understand what Minnie and Moo get wrong, so the child can laugh hard and confidently. And from an adult perspective, Dennys Cazet’s ability to pull off that humor in ways that are constantly fresh and imaginative but never exceed the necessary reading level is impressive. I also appreciated his ability to be funny at a child’s level without descending into potty humor or inviting readers to laugh unkindly at the character’s expense.
There are 16 Minnie and Moo books, by my best count, and I have not yet read all of them. To give you a taste of their delightfulness, here are three that are favorites in our house.
Minnie and Moo and the Musk of Zorro
Plot: Inspired by the legendary hero, the best bovine friends reinvent themselves as Juanita del Zorro del Moo and Dolores del Zorro del Minnie. Armed with a lipstick sword and a can of something they’ve never seen before, they defend the barnyard with more enthusiasm than success.
Favorite quote: “Moo, listen to me—” “Listen to the world,” said Moo. “It cries out for heroes!” Moo turned and ran toward the barn. “Follow me, Dolores,” she called. Minnie sighed. She threw up her arms. “Juanita!” she shouted. “Wait for me!”
Minnie and Moo and the Potato from Planet X
Plot: Spud, an alien who looks like his name suggests he would, crashes his space ship in the field next to Minnie and Moo. Minnie and Moo help him repair and refuel, and the farmer’s tractor will never be the same again.
Favorite quote: “My name is Spud. I am from the planet X. I make deliveries for Universal Package Service. As your double eyeballs can see, my UPS space truck has crashed. I must have another ship and five gallons of space fuel. You must help me. We must go fast.”
Minnie and Moo Wanted Dead or Alive
Plot: Minnie and Moo think their farmer has money trouble. They set out to help him, but they don’t know much about money, and they know even less about banks. It doesn’t help that they look exactly like a pair of notorious bank robbers.
Favorite quote: “Look at those posters,” said Minnie. “Those people are WANTED.” “Of course,” said Moo. “They are favorite bank shoppers. Remember when the market named Mrs. Wilkerson Shopper of the Year? They put her picture up.” “But Moo,” said Minnie. “Look at that poster. The Bazooka Sisters don’t look like Shoppers of the Year…”