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Book Review: The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen

22 Nov

Today’s book review is for The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen, written by Diana Prichard, illustrated by Heather Devlin Knopf, published by Little Pickle Press. It is scheduled to be released on Monday, November 25, 2013. I received an electronic copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Cow in Patrick O’Shanahan’s Kitchen is a humorous story about a boy who wakes up one morning to discover that the sources of his food have appeared right there in his kitchen. It provides an entertaining way to introduce children to the idea that food originates from somewhere before it arrives in the grocery aisle.

Prichard’s concept is a fun one. In order to eat breakfast, Patrick must gather eggs from chickens and milk from a cow. She describes these actions with accurate details, drawn from her own experiences as a farmer. However, this native Maine girl couldn’t help saying “That’s not right!” when I got to the passage about maple syrup. You see, in the book, a spigot in a tapped maple tree drips syrup. But in fact, that spigot would only be dripping sap–which would then have to be boiled down to produce the deliciously sweet maple syrup that is such a breakfast favorite. While on the one hand, I understand the simplification of the process for the purpose of the story, on the other it feels dishonest. Not to mention, I pity the poor kids who decide to try drinking “syrup” from a tapped tree and instead get a mouthful of sap.

At the end, I had the same problem when Patrick is greeted by an oinking pig and wonders if he smells bacon. If he did smell bacon, I’m pretty sure that pig wouldn’t be oinking anymore. Unless Prichard is alluding to Douglas Adams’s The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, this final scene just felt confusing.

I also wasn’t enamored of Knopf’s illustrations. They do have a lot of character to them, but with their angular style and still visible pencil lines, they feel more like initial sketches than completed illustrations. The digital coloring isn’t particularly well executed–in particular the places where color meets outline seemed sloppy.

It’s unfortunate, because the other elements of the book design were rather nice. I enjoyed the font that was used quite a bit. The placement of text on the page was aesthetically pleasing. There was enough variety in the amount of text per page to keep things from moving too quickly or too ploddingly. And I liked the way the illustrations stretched across facing pages.

Overall I’m going to give it a somewhat generous 3 out of 5 stars. It was a fun story, misrepresentations of maple syrup aside. And I doubt that children of the target age group will be as critical of the illustrations. My own suggestion is that parents be prepared to explain butchering at the end.

You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.