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Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Groove Book Report - Moo and Moo and Little Calf too - Written by Jane Milton, Illustrated by Deborah Hinde

During the massive 7.8M earthquake that hit New Zealand in November 2016 two cows and a calf were stranded on a two-metre high 'island' when their paddock slid and buckled 80 metres from its original position.  Sensibly they stayed put and were rescued by farmers a day or so later. This story attracted huge media attention locally and around the world.

It's an iconic story of bravery in the face of great adversity, and of helping others and protecting those around us. It's also emblematic of the laconic Kiwi sense of humor and the strength of the New Zealand spirit when faced with chaos and extreme challenge.

That was an earthquake is very clearly etched in my memory.  As a Wellingtonian I well remember being shaken from my bed, grabbing the emergency kit, bundling the kids in the car and heading to the hills whilst all around the tsunami warnings screamed out across the Hutt Valley.  For me and other adults it was a nervous night but for our youngest it was an adventure.  That's how she'll remember it.  Getting up in the middle of the night, camping out in the car and devouring service station chippies and soft drinks.   She had a wonderful time and is still quite gleeful about it when I ask her, even now.  So it was no surprise when the courier package arrived.  She tore open the cover and exclaimed loudly "The Earthquake Book! Yes!"

I should explain.  Emily is my youngest, just six and learning to read.  Not only did she learn about the November, 2016, earthquake at school but also about some of the bizarre things that occurred on that night including the raising of the land around the Kaikoura coastline and how it left stranded three sheep on a tiny island of land over 2 metres high created by the the extreme buckling of land around their coastal paddock.

From Moo and Moo and Little Calf Too
by Jane Milton / illustrated by Deborah Hinde
(Pub. Allen & Unwin)
The story captured the public and international media's attention so much that they, these three wonderful creatures became world famous in New Zealand. The unusual situation coupled by their daring rescue by local farmers is a story in itself and like the legend of Shrek the wild sheep was just begging to be made into a book or film.
Quick to capitalize on the even Jane Milton, who actually lives on the very same Clarence River farm in Kaikoura has chosen to make the most of this crazy situation.  Like Jane Bowron (Old Bucky and Me) who wrote about her experiences and learning to live with the the Christchurch earthquakes Jane Milton has also chosen to embrace her situation, even as the land outside her window twist and turns like a distorted body.  Jane and her husband Derrick live at her childhood home of Waipapa. They raised three children on the farm, two of whom are also farmers: Ben runs Waipapa and Willie runs Glentoi at Ward.  Although Waipapa’s idyllic house and garden were tossed around on November 14, the house survived relatively unscathed.  However, the family’s 1400ha hilly, coastal farmland took a massive hit.  When the day after the quake dawned, a news crew shot images from a helicopter of two cows and a calf stranded precariously on a newly formed, grass-topped island with no obvious means of escape. A hill had collapsed, the land had moved 80m, and steep cliffs and deep ravines now criss-crossed the landscape.  that became her story.

It could have been a story of devastation and loss.  But instead Jane has made this a really fun story in 20 punchy, quick witted stanzas.  Comprised mostly of short rhyming couplets the story flows easily and naturally like a song and has a very familiar feel to it.  As a first time reader, Emily found the vocabulary easy to read and rhyming also helped her to anticipate not only words but the story, too.  Like all her favorites (Jane Dodd, Dr Seuss, etc) it was an effortless read for her.  Yet Jane does not avoid using 'adult' words when needed.  Try this one on for size:

"On and on, past the trough and the tank,
Past the Totara and the tussock
And their favourite grassy bank.
Then down,
                            with a rumble and a roar,
  Until their ride ended at the valley floor.

It's a very Kiwi story with plenty of references to the local landscape.  Jane makes sure she includes the limestone cliffs and Totara trees (spelling it with the macron).  There's even mention of a famous helicopter pilot - Richie - Yes, the former All Black! And she name checks the real farmers that rescued the cows, too She also uses a few geological terms such as 'rupture' and 'rubble', but down plays the noise and horror of the quake, thankfully.

Deborah Hinde was the one responsible for the brilliant book A Kiwi Night Before Christmas.  As an illustrator she works in a simple pen, ink and watercolor style.  Her style is gentle and calming.  She shies away from gruesome details or awkward accuracy but still manages to capture the scenes as if she has really been on this farm.  Perhaps she has.

In this image made from video, three cows are stranded on an island of grass in a paddock that had been ripped apart following
an earthquake near Kaikoura, New Zealand Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.  (Daily News/ Newshub AP)
Deborah's challenge, as was Jane's, was to turn all that was chaos and crisis into a bit of fun.  After all, you gotta laugh sometimes when things like this happen and I think they've managed to do that.  Emily laughs at the silliness of three cows stuck on a platform in the middle of a beach to mountain.  "How will they go to the toilet or watch TV? " She asks.  She's imagining them escaping one by one by diving off a board into the sea and swimming across to Wellington.  "Why not? They could stay in my room."

While there will be no bovine borders in this house, there is plenty of room on our book case and I really hop that when the dust settles and the cows are once again lowing in the fields that Jane Milton will find time for another adventure installment.  I can't wait.

Children's Book - Suitable age group - 3 - 7yrs
Moo and Moo and Little Calf too - Written by Jane Milton, Illustrated by Deborah Hinde
Published by Allen & Unwin - RRP $19.99

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