Aug 13, 2009
Moody Cow Meditates, by Kerry Lee MacLean
There 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.
Bodhipaksa 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.