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Review: Holy Cow by David Duchovny

Holy Cow: A Modern Day Dairy Tale
By David Duchovny

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

ISBN: 9780374172077
Out Now

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

I think I can speak for everyone when I say the world needs more pseudo children’s books. Credit to David Duchovny for braving the pirannah-filled celebrity author waters to bring us a faux kid’s book to remember. While it draws inspiration from Animal Farm and Ulysses, Holy Cow is better than both of those books combined. Times two.

Okay, are you still reading? Because I need to tell you something: you’ve been pranked. Yes, pranked. This isn’t really a review of David Duchovny’s book (although it is a review of a book that contains a lot of cows) it’s a review of The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett and Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell. It’s about pranking. And cows. And it’s great (seriously, I mean it).

Miles Murphy was a pranking legend – at his old school. When Miles arrives at Yawnee Valley (home to plenty of cows, but little else) he is ready to assert himself as the pranking king of his new school. But something stops Miles from ascending to the throne – someone else already wears the crown. Will Miles and the mystery pranker be bitter enemies, or work together to pull the biggest prank in Yawnee Valley history? Somewhere in the distance, a cow mooed.

As you would hope for in a book that aims for humor, it’s full of CHARACTERS. Most of the players have one ridiculous trait or another that readers will find funny. Principal Barkin, for example, is a nicely unhinged foil, relentlessly skeptical of Miles in the service of honoring the Barkin principals who came before him.

Silliness and absurdity are sprinkled all over The Terrible Two. While things often go gleefully over the top, they stop short of over-indulgent. Here friends John and Barnett take co-writing to the next level – often working on the story simultaneously as a Google Doc. I can envision the pair sitting in the same room, tapping away at their computers to craft pearls such as this:

“I didn’t do it,” Miles said.

“That’s what you always say,” said Principal Barkin. “You should put that on a T-shirt. And then I will wear a T-shirt that says YES YOU DID.”

Cornell’s black and white spot illustrations play an important role, defining the look of the characters and adding humor through details not described in the text. The beady-eyed look of the characters is perfect for a book where where blank stares are often the only appropriate reaction to the layered mischief going on.

While The Terrible Two doesn’t need my added endorsement (it sits on the New York Times bestseller list as we speak, and was recently optioned for a film adaptation by Universal), when a book receives a lot of attention lives up to it, it’s deserving. Mooooooooo!

Review copy from the publisher.

Watch the Terrible Two book trailer:

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Oh, well played, sir! I was entertaining nightmares of how you’d managed to get the Duchovny book. For a brief second there I thought you might have *shudder* purchased it.


    And yes, the Barnett/Johns book is a treat.

  2. Yeah, you totally got me there. I was all “HAS TRAVIS LOST HIS MIND?!?!?!?” for a minute. Then I laughed. Then I put The Terrible Two on hold.

    • Travis Jonker says

      As you can tell from the review, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. It’s a very fun read.

  3. Seriously, this is amazing. I hope Mac Barnett and Jory John see this! I think they’d most definitely approve.

  4. Brilliant. The review totally captures the spirit of TERRIBLE TWO. Now I’m totally expecting a review of the Duchovny book.

  5. Firstly, listening to Duchovny on NPR a couple weeks ago was a treat in and of itself, but seeing his humor in print is nearly as delicious.
    The Terrible Two looks like a gas, and as book trailers go, a total win. Looking forward to reading it–if for nothing else, I must know about the cow.