________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 18 . . . . January 15, 2010


Lights! Curtains! Cows! (Streetlights).

Karin Adams.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2009.
132 pp., pbk., $8.95.
ISBN 978-1-55277-426-7.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Andrea Galbraith.

*** /4



"So what's it going to be?" Becky went on. "Are we adventurous and brave like the olden-days cattlemen and cattlewomen? Or do we want everyone to think of Ellis as the place where we just pickled beets and fixed butterchurns?"

No one said a word.

"The Legend of Cow Valley might be a legend, but I bet it would make our ancestors proud. They liked to laugh. They liked to have fun. And that's what Cow Valley is all about!" The room was quiet. I agreed with Becky of course, but I was still worried about what would happen to us.

Becky took a deep breath and said, "It's not wrong to enjoy the olden days, and it certainly isn't treason. It's our responsibility. Because we love Cow Valley and we love Ellis!" Becky clutched her heart with a flourish as she ended her speech. Her audience looked moved, if not entirely convinced.


Seventh-graders Greg, Mike, Becky and their classmates have waited years for their chance to star in The Legend of Cow Valley, the exuberant play put on each summer on a neighbour's farm. This humourous take on history, with a famous climax featuring a real stampede of cows across the stage, is loved throughout their region of Manitoba. When the kids learn that Mr. Derksen has sold part of his land to the Canadian government, they are devastated. The federal Heritage Department announces that there will still be a play at the farm, but the children's excitement quickly dies as they realize that the play selected is not their beloved classic, but a boring story revolving around an innovative butterchurn. Their dismal predictions for the play are proved right as ticket sales quickly fall off. The play seems doomed until Becky takes charge as usual, convincing the cast to defy the Ottawa bureaucrat, Ms Constance Noring, and perform The Legend of Cow Valley one last time.

     Typical seventh-graders may not be expected to get so excited about spending their summer performing in a play, but The Legend of Cow Valley is no ordinary play. It is held on an outdoor stage on the farm, and auditions are traditionally accompanied by a hotdog barbeque. The kids and their families are justifiably proud of it, and, in a small, insular community, it is a huge event. The centrality of this community event emphasizes the small town setting. The town's interesting and evolving history is also suggested in the variety of surnames of the characters, which subtly shows the multicultural makeup of the area.

     The core characters and several other minor characters are deftly drawn. Small details of personality, such as the squabbling of the Braun twins, and Silent Jim's near muteness, give the reader an anchor point for the less central characters. The dialogue is free from slang, realistic, and gently funny. There is an easy geniality among the classmates, with no outcasts. Becky is a strong, likable character who is bossy, but not abrasive. She is willing to put herself on the line and drags her friends along, more or less willingly. Her actions are described by Greg, the first person narrator, who is also her best friend. The witness narrator works well and avoids the possible difficulties of having to describe the inner processes of a quirky character like Becky.

     The humour in the book works best when expressed through character: Becky's steamrolling fundraising efforts and determination to play Catastrophe Cate in the play, or Mike's horror at being cast as a ballet-dancing snowflake. The attempt to satirize federal bureaucracy falls rather flat. Ms. Noring is a banal caricature of an uptight, clueless and humorless person.

     The theme of connecting to the past and experiencing it as vibrant and alive is emphasized throughout, in an upbeat way, not at all pedantic. This lively story of a small town tradition is a warm, fun and engaging read.


Andrea Galbraith is a writer, librarian and parent based in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.