cover image George Washington's Cows

George Washington's Cows

David Small. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-374-32535-0

Witty and silly in equal measure, Small's (Ruby Mae Has Something to Say) cheeky expose about the real reason the father of our country went into politics works on a number of conceptual levels. George Washington's farm is home to a host of precocious animals, including some secretive, moody cows (``They had to be dressed in lavendar gowns/ and bedded on cushions of silk/ .../ Begged every hour in obsequious tones,/ Or they just wouldn't give any milk''); house-servant hogs (``Always polite and impeccably dressed,/ They were certainly well-bred swine''); and a crew of scholarly sheep bent on mastering the mysteries of the universe. Illustrations are opulent and expansive, with both the overall conceits and the characters' costumes wonderfully imaginative and inventive. Buoyant rhymed couples have an across-the-board appeal, while the sly political joke that closes the tale will satisfy adults primarily: George, stymied by the animals (``My cows wear dresses, my pigs wear wigs/ And my sheep are more learned than me''), is last seen in a famous pose, being ferried across the Delaware, and saying, ``Sell the Farm... I'll try Politics!'' Smart entertainment. All ages. (Sept.)