Book: Prudence the Part-Time Cow
Author: Jody Jensen Shaffer
Illustrator: Stephanie Laberis
Age Range: 4-8
Prudence the Part-Time Cow by Jody Jensen Shaffer and Stephanie Laberis is a celebration of science, invention, individuality and belonging. Prudence is only a part-time cow because she spends a significant portion of her time being a scientist, architect, and engineer. The other cows find Prudence's odd behavior off-putting. When they criticize her, she tries to be more like the other cows. But she simply can't help herself. She wants to read and learn and understand and try things out.
When the other cows let her know, again, that she'll never truly be one of them, Prudence sets her considerable mind to figuring out a way that she can be herself and still belong. She ends up making a series of inventions tailored to the needs of those around her. The ending, in which the other cows happily accept the results of her efforts, struck me as an adult reader as a little bit too easy. But I think that kids will like it. Certainly my seven-year-old inventor, ninja, engineer, architect, pirate daughter had no complaints, and pronounced the book a success.
Shaffer's text uses strong vocabulary words and lots of quotations. I think this is more suited as a book to read to children then from them to read on their own. Here's a snippet:
"When it was pond-standing time, Prudence stood with the herd.
She was doing great ... but then she calculated
the water temperature and wind speed.
"Sixty-eight degrees and four miles per hour."
The herd was not impressed. "Cows don't calculate,"
said Bessie, counting the salves as she hustled
them from the pond."
I like "pond-standing time" and the use of "hustled." I also got a little smile from the fact that the cow busily counting the calves claimed that cows don't calculate. For what is counting but calculating? I chose not to point this out to my daughter, though. Let her pick it up on her own when she's ready, I say.
Laberis' illustrations add humor and detail. Prudence is shown with a shock of curly pink hair. The other cows are frequently shown with grumpy expressions, while the calves tend to look more open and questioning. Prudence sometimes stands on two legs, to the other cows' four, a subtle visual representation of her more evolved state. She looks like someone's quirky aunt, a bit embarrassing in public, but lovable.
You have to appreciate any book that has a female character who loves science and math so much that she simply can't help calculating and inventing. The fact that she's a cow, not a person, makes her community's lack of acceptance of her true nature understandable. Her attempts to balance staying true to herself with fitting in reflect tensions that most science-loving girls will experience one day. This theme, along with the book's vocabulary and visual detail, makes Prudence the Part-Time Cow a better fit for first to third graders than for preschoolers, I think. It would make a very nice classroom read-aloud for, say, second graders. Libraries looking for pro-STEM books, especially pro-STEM books with female characters, will definitely want to give Prudence the Part-Time Cow a look. Recommended!
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (@MacKidsBooks)
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the author
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