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Moody Cow Meditates, by Kerry Lee MacLean

Moody CowThere are far too few books on meditation for children, and Kerry Lee MacLean’s Moody Cow should be a welcome addition to the book collection of any meditator’s child. But Bodhipaksa has some concerns. Find out why.

“My name is Moody Cow. It used to be Peter, but now it’s Moody Cow. It all started one stupid, rotten day when everything went wrong…”

So begins the story, which introduces us to Peter the calf, his sister Daisy, and his mother. We also get to meet Peter’s grandfather, who plays a pivotal role as the wise old bull of the family. Peter’s father is strangely absent, although we do get to see his car. Fathers do not generally get a good rap in modern culture, and it’s a shame that the author participates in this trend.

Peter has an awful day, which starts with a bad dream and his being unable to find his mother (I keep wondering where she might have been), a confrontation with his sister (which turns violent), having to cycle to school through the snow because his mother (what was she thinking!) kept him late to punish him for vandalizing his sister’s doll causing him to miss the school bus, no fewer than two bicycle accidents (not surprising given the weather conditions), and then a stress-induced incident where Peter throws a baseball through a window, for which he is again punished by being made to clean the toilets for a month and is also publicly humiliated by his mother, who (with the best of intentions, apparently) calls him a “moody cow” in front of his sister and her friends.

 The mind jar is an excellent idea, and there are detailed instructions on how to make one  

Peter’s grandfather is called in to help him work through his issues, although given the issues reckless endangerment, unfair treatment (Peter is punished for vandalizing his sister’s toy: she is not punished for vandalizing his), and public belittlement he has faced, I wonder if Social Services might be more appropriate.

Granddad’s a meditator, and he introduces Peter to the “mind jar” which contains water. Peter adds a pinch of sparkles to the jar for each angry thought he has — many sparkles are added — and then granddad shakes it up to represent the way that these thoughts are swirling around in Peter’s head. Peter then listens to the sound of a gong as it fades away into silence, and by the time he’s finished he finds that both the sparkles and his angry thoughts have settled down. Peter decides to meditate every day with his grandfather, and he also decides to keep the name “Moody Cow.”

There’s no suggested age-range for this new book by Kerry Lee MacLean, who previously wrote Peaceful Piggy Meditation, but I’ve tested it repeatedly on my 2 3/4 year-old daughter, who seems to enjoy it very much. Admittedly she’s precocious, but I’d imagine this book could be appreciated by most children from about three to eight years old — and perhaps older.

As you can probably deduce from my comments above, I had mixed feelings about Moody Cow. I’m pleased to see a book for children about meditation. There are very few resources appropriate for a child as young as my daughter, who perhaps has a better idea now of what I do when I disappear into the basement. The mind jar is an excellent idea, and there are detailed instructions on how to make one (it’s not just sparkles and water). I appreciated the instructions very much, and although I haven’t yet made my own jar I’ll do so soon. The jar is an excellent way of introducing one basic concept of meditation, which is that the mind settles down if you observe it for long enough.

 In the parts I come from, the term Moody Cow is a serious insult  

On the other hand, the book does present some outrageous behavior, from the violence of Peter’s sister making him fall downstairs by tripping him, to Peter being forced by his mother to cycle to school in the snow. My daughter’s rotten days tend to consist more of things like not getting enough sleep because her little brother was teething, not wanting to share a favorite toy with another kid, the YMCA pool being closed when she’s been promised a swim, and not liking what’s for dinner.

I presume that Peter’s woes are being made exaggeratedly grave in order to dramatize the story and thus make it more interesting, but I’m not sure I wanted my little girl introduced to the concept of one sibling pushing another downstairs. If the title was just the title then I would have regarded it as a mildly witty pun, but “moody cow” is also used as a term of ridicule by Peter’s sister and his friends in order to humiliate him (although shouldn’t be be a “Moody Bull Calf”?). In the parts I come from, the term “Moody Cow” is a serious insult. I don’t particularly want this term to become part of my two-year-old’s vocabulary, although admittedly she might not take it seriously if she herself is ever subjected to that term of abuse in the future.

The dialog in the book is well written from a first person perspective, so that we see things from Peter’s perspective throughout. Kerry Lee MacLean has a sense of humor that both my daughter and I appreciate. The illustrations are from paintings, which are charming, even if the colors are rather gray and muddy for my taste.

 I’m pleased to see a book for children about meditation.  

I’m new to parenting, having only been a father for a little over two years, so it may be that I’m underestimating the resilience of older children’s minds. Or perhaps, not having a television set, I’m out of touch with what children are exposed to these days. Perhaps pushing downstairs and parental abuse are staple topics of entertainment for three-year-olds. Or perhaps the book is aimed at much older children than it appears. Without any guidance in the book I just can’t tell who it’s aimed at. (Plea to publishers: please put a suggested age-range on every book).

If you’re surprised by my discomfort with the book’s violent themes, then of course feel free to disregard my concerns. If, like me, you feel a desire to prolong your child’s innocence, you might want to tread warily. MacLean, it should be said, has many years of experience of teaching meditation to children, and perhaps I should give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she knows what’s appropriate, but I suspect this book is going to quietly make its way to some hidden spot in the house, out of the reach of my children. But the mind jar is still cool.


BodhipaksaBodhipaksa is a Buddhist practitioner, writer, and teacher, and is also the founder of Wildmind. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife, daughter, and son, and has a particular interest in teaching prison inmates.

As well as teaching behind bars, Bodhipaksa also conducts classes at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire. He muses, rants, and shares random aspects of his life on his blog at bodhipaksa.com. You can follow Bodhipaksa’s Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/bodhipaksa or join him on Facebook.


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About Bodhipaksa

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Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist practitioner and teacher, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order, and a published author. He founded Wildmind in 2001. Bodhipaksa has published many guided meditation CDs and guided meditation MP3s.

He teaches at Aryaloka Buddhist Center in Newmarket, New Hampshire. You can follow Bodhipaksa on Twitter, join him on Facebook, or hang out with him on .

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Comments

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Comment from Maureen
Time: August 15, 2009, 12:32 am

Hmmm. Bodhipaksa, I heard about your review in another blog and I was curious enough to track it down. A book about children’s meditation given a negative review puzzled me. After reading your review (four times. I wanted to make sure I understood what your were saying) my puzzlement is gone. I totally agree with everything you say. As a children’s fiction writer I’m always interested in what’s new and I can only theorize that in this case the publisher thought ‘Meditation and kids…we can’t lose’. Big mistake.
Have fun with your young family, they grow up so fast, as children they’re only on loan to us.
Maureen hume http://www.thepizzagang.com

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 15, 2009, 9:25 am

I have to say I didn’t feel entirely happy about giving a bad review to a children’s author, but while it can be easier just not to review books you don’t like I think it’s fairer to let people know what I think of a particular book.

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Comment from PJ
Time: August 31, 2009, 7:05 pm

By chance, have you checked out any of Lori Lite’s books? I haven’t bought/read them yet, but they appear to take a different approach in getting their message across.
http://stressfreekids.com/

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: August 31, 2009, 11:00 pm

Hi PJ,

I’ll look out for them. Thanks for the tip.

Bodhipaksa

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Comment from Dana Eisenberg
Time: September 7, 2009, 12:31 am

I’d have to say that I disagree with your review. I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a School Counselor who works with elementary school kids and I plan to use this book in my classroom guidance lessons. I interpreted the book very differently. Not being able to find mother was concerning for sure, but not that unusual. Mom may have run out to the garage for a few minutes to look for something. Or maybe the child didn’t really look everywhere. Or maybe it is a neglect situation but, neglect does happen. I know many real live kids who can’t always find a parent to be available when they need one. As for the bus, I read it that it was missed because of the tumult of the altercation, not as a punishment. The book uses exaggeration here and elsewhere, which is a common and useful approach to story telling. It validates the sometimes exaggerated reactions we, and especially kids, can have to troubling situations. Besides, for all we know the school was only a block away, it just felt like miles. (Remember: I used to have to walk 10 miles to school barefoot, uphill, both ways).
The violence is pretty harsh for ordinary children. However, my experience is that kids prone to violence will feel that someone understands their feelings when reading this book. Kids not prone to violence will be shocked by the violent choices Peter and his sister make and understand that they are reading an exaggerated story. Even kids who aren’t violent by nature sometimes have violent thoughts or impulses. It’s okay to talk about these rather than pretend they don’t exist and write only sweet stories of well-mannered, clean thinking children and their ideal parents.
As for “Moody Cow” I read it that Mom was being affectionate (“I think she felt sorry for me.”) when she said “You are a moody cow aren’t you” rather than cruel or harsh. The sister just happened to over hear and turn the term into a slur (how many siblings haven’t done something mean like that?)
Overall, I find the story refreshingly honest about the range of feelings and the stresses that children experience. I’ll be making mind jars with my second graders and hopefully with the third grade classes as well. If you decide to get rid of the book still, I’d be glad to receive your copy as we have a pretty tight budget at my low income public school.
Thanks for hearing me out. And, by the way, I do agree that the problem with a “cow” designation will most likely be picked up on by my rural students.
Dana

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Comment from Acey
Time: February 14, 2011, 5:23 pm

Dana Eisenberg = Very good friend of the writer’s who both worked on that post. Very long and thought out defense. hmmm

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Comment from Acey
Time: February 14, 2011, 5:39 pm

Might still be a good book though after reading all reviews.

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Comment from Dana Eisenberg
Time: February 14, 2011, 10:41 pm

I’m not sure if you’re implying that I’m a friend of the writer Acey but, for the record, I don’t know the writer at all and nobody worked on that post with or for me. I invested my thought and care in my reply because I was hoping to give a different perspective that might be helpful to those who care about children. If I’ve misunderstood the meaning of your comment, I apologize.

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Comment from Amy
Time: February 27, 2012, 8:27 am

As a parent of children with severe emotion problems, the ‘outrageous’ behavior in the book is not so outrageous…. I agree that exaggerating facts in a children’s book is sort of the ‘norm’ – but in our case – to have the anger and inability to properly express that in a story is a plus…. as for not being able to find his mother – that is also a ‘normal reaction’ here. If I cannot be located IMMEDIATELY (throwing laundry in the dryer, getting mail, etc) – the reaction is usually that I ‘was gone FOREVER’, so I understand that as being the child’s perception of the situation in the moment. I also have a child who in a situation like that would accuse me of not ‘being there’ if I did not magically appear when he needs me.

Overall, I enjoy the book and am using it with my children to work towards emotional regulation. They each have a ‘mind jar’ and are beginning to understand that it IS possible (although difficult) to find positive ways to deal with their extreme emotions….

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: February 27, 2012, 10:22 am

Actually as my children get older the book’s events seem less outrageous and more like day-to-day life — and my children don’t have any severe emotional problems!

I’m glad to hear that you’re finding the book useful with your kids.

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