Yes You Can, Cow! by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Rikin Parekh, Faber
What's it about? A fresh take on a familiar nursery rhyme, this is an entertaining and inspiring reimagining of Hey Diddle Diddle. Cow is the star of a stage show but gets last-minute nerves. She's supposed to jump over Moon as the big finish but is worried she won't manage it, and worse, that everyone will laugh at her when she fails.
What can we learn? We all have to start somewhere and even the most talented people have to practise and learn their skills. Although the prospect of something might petrify us, it doesn't mean it's insurmountable. It can take time to reach our goals but dividing the route into smaller steps can help us get further along, and make the journey less daunting too.
What makes this stand out? This story not only shows readers that it's OK to make mistakes, but it also demonstrates how valuable they are. Along with Cow, we learn that even if the worst thing we can imagine actually happens, it's not as bad as we might think. And that after that, the situation can only improve. Failure is reinvented as a positive experience from which we can grow. We see that we don't have to give up when plans don't work out. And just because something doesn't come naturally to us, it doesn't mean we won't one day master it.
About the illustrations... They're wonderful – so full of energy and quite cinematic. Close-ups of Cow and the other characters' faces recall how a camera zooms in and out. Although none of the protagonists speaks, besides the occasional 'Moooo' from Cow, their faces and body language are remarkably expressive. We get to know them through them the images and can understand how they are feeling in every scene. My kids love when Cow hides under a blanket and all you can see is her rear end protruding from beneath it. They also love seeing her ready to quit with her suitcases packed too. They enjoy discovering different details and drawing my attention to them too — like Cat's first aid kit. The illustrations enhance all the comic elements, bringing the story to life brilliantly, and making us laugh so much.
Why we love it...
It's so inventive and original; I'm intrigued by how Rashmi Sirdedeshpande came up with the idea for the story! It's endlessly fascinating – and impressive – how creative minds work, especially minds that belong to picture book authors and illustrators.
The clever premise is also narrated in an extremely interesting and unusual way. The reader takes on the role of director and is talking to Cow the whole way through. We feel like we are on Cow's journey with her and making a difference to her confidence ourselves.
When you hear the rhyme Hey Diddle Diddle, you tend to assume the cow glides over the moon effortlessly. That the cow might get cold hooves or be utterly terrified never crossed my mind. And real life is like that too. Successful people can seem to just float through situations and ooze confidence, but they're probably a lot more like Cow than we realise. I think we all have an inner Cow, but some of us are better at managing her!
Cow's antics are hilarious and the entire story is so funny. My kids have been demanding this book over and over again and they laugh out loud at several scenes every time. It's a rare story that can hold the interest of my six-year-old (who is now almost seven) as strongly as that of their four-year-old sibling. Just like any production, there are instances involving unexpectedly absent or indisposed cast members, which heighten the comedy. Both of my kids get into stitches every time Dog goes missing. They've even started making up their own stories and inventing extra scenes where Dog vanishes with more amusing consequences. When Cow tries to suggest that the director just cut her part out of the show, both of my kids crack up. The eldest has even started reciting the line, 'No we can't just cut that bit out. It's the main part of the story!'
The pacing in this picture book is phenomenal, and I don't think I've ever noticed pacing in a picture book before (or thought that it was even relevant to this genre). It's great fun each time the characters start to perform Hey Diddle Diddle before the recital suddenly comes to a halt, and it all feels very dramatic. My kids get very excited when the rehearsals begin again after each pause and they LOVE Cows frequent protestations of "Moooo." We might not understand bovine communications, but we still know exactly what she is saying.
Why you need it...
Apart from delighting children, this terrific story imparts wisdom that they'll benefit from their entire lives. It acknowledges how scary it is to take on new challenges and even explores how they can and do go wrong. Yes You Can, Cow! reassures children and lets them know they're not alone. Fear of failure and subsequent ridicule is endemic. It's something to which we can all relate and probably the biggest thing that prevents us from pursuing our dreams. Instead of dismissing these fears, this book acknowledges and validates them, while ultimately encouraging and empowering little readers to overcome them. I absolutely love Cow's perseverance and how the other characters all support her. I will be trying to learn from this tale and telling myself, 'Yes, You Can,' as much as possible in 2022!
Did you know Hey Diddle Diddle has been around since the 1700s?
Many historians believe it might even be older, dating back to the 16th century or more. The phrase 'over the moon' (used to convey elation) is believed to have originated from this rhyme. The lyrics and melody that have come to be associated with it were first published by the composer and nursery rhyme collector James William Elliott in 1870. Read more about the history and possible meaning behind Hey Diddle Diddle...
About the author:
Rashmi Sirdeshpande is a lawyer turned children's author, with two young children who ask her lots of questions. Rashmi writes non-fiction picture books that ignite children's curiosity, as well as fictional stories that crackle with imagination. When she's not playing with words, you'll find her on her yoga mat twisting herself into all sorts of shapes. Read our review of You Can Change the World by Rashmi Sirdeshpande and Annabel Tempest. Learn more about Rashmi on her website.
About the illustrator:
Rikin Parekh is a children's book illustrator based in North-West London. He also works as a LSA (Learning Support Assistant) in primary schools. Rikin studied at Camberwell College of Arts and at the University of Westminster in Harrow. After graduating, he freelanced as a Film Production Illustrator, working mainly on monster movies. He then decided to follow his first true love, picture books, and turn his hand to children's publishing. You can find more of Rikin's work on his website.
Thanks so much to the lovely people in Faber for sharing this fabulous book with us and brightening up an otherwise dull week — we love it! All opinions expressed are our own.