Children’s Book of the Week: Sixteen Cows

by | Nov 23, 2009 | Children's Book of the Week | 3 comments

Sixteen Cows by Lisa Wheeler, illustrated by Kurt Cyrus

This one is for Emily.

Lisa Wheeler, rhyme-mistress extraordinaire, continues to charm the daylights out of every single one of us, and really hits it out of the park with this one. It’s the story of Gene Biddle and Sue Waddle, two ranchers who live right next to each other, love their cows, and generally pay no attention to each other. They are spending too much time loving their cows, and singing their cows home with a fun happy rhymey sing-song that’s made up of all the cows names.

But one day a tornado rips out the fence between the two ranches, and the cows are clumped together in a big messy cowherd of Biddles and Waddles, and Gene and Sue get into a cow-singing-home fight that has the poor herd clomping from one ranch to another. Gene and Sue finally call a truce, for the sake of the poor cows, you know, and then they finally realize what kindred spirits they are, with one of the loveliest getting-to-know-you sequences I’ve read in children’s literature: “Gene mumbled, ‘What nice cows you have,’/Sue blushed. ‘I like yours too.'”

So the cows get to be one big happy herd, and serve as bridesmaids at Gene and Sue’s wedding. Hurray! I will honestly say that all my kids — even Zuzu — love this book, and want it read again and again. The illustrations are marvelous too, and the cows really are pretty. It’s fairly difficult to read this without lapsing into a Southern accent of some sort, which is part of the fun. And now Eli is using phrases like “down yonder” in his everyday speech.

Also, I should say that, when I say that “Zuzu loves this book,” that would probably be better characterized as “Zuzu is completely obsessed with this book and wants us to read it to her 100 times a day.” She really, really loves it. I was trying to decide whether to get it for her for Christmas or to just get it out of the library every three weeks. But then I noticed that, in the scene where Gene and Sue get married, there are two cowboys dancing together, and it’s very subtle, but also unmistakable once you notice it, and how great is that? So I will be buying this one to put under the tree.


  1. sarah

    I was just about to email you about your book picks for Christmas – having been vert faithful library patrons over the last year we are really desperate for a refresh of our collection.
    I know you’ve already done all the research so I thought I could pick your brain 🙂

  2. emily

    i forgot to post this. I LOVE this book so much. Poor Wylie has to have it read to him probably way more than he wants – I’m trying to cool it so he doesn’t get all weird and oppositional about it, boycotting it because he reads how much, how fervently, I want to read it again.

    I love cowboy Gene. Like, Leerve him. I think I’m jealous of cowgirl sue. her and her dumb yellow hair. I want to live in that little house on Biddle ranch, 1 room and a stove and my framed pictures of cows.

  3. Julie

    I KNOW. Oh, I just knew you’d love it. I can’t read it without hearing you read it in my head. And I am the same way about Cowboy Gene. He’s like some big cow-lovin’ gentle-hearted Conan O’Brien. And Sue, yeah, well, I mean, she seems nice and all, and a good match, but, well, I’m all “Hello, Gene! Over here! Howdy do!”

    You think YOU love Cowboy Gene? Zuzu really really loves him. LOVES him. Is also clearly jealous of Sue.


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