Cows are animals that tend to come up a lot in Christmas books. That's because cattle are commonly found in stables, so there are many picture books that include a cow at the Nativity, and books involving Christmas pageants often feature them as well. In these types of books, they're in the background, but there are a few that focus on cows predominantly. Most of these tend to be pretty silly, though some take a more solemn approach. Here are a few picture books in which cows play a central role.
Annabelle's Wish - Based on an animated Christmas special from the 1990s narrated by country singer Randy Travis, this is a tender nostalgic story about a boy who cannot speak and the cow that he loves. Tommy receives Annabelle as a Christmas present, and in no time, the two of them are spending all of their time together. One of his favorite games involves hitching Annabelle to his wagon and tying fake antlers on her head so he can pretend that she is a reindeer, and this fuels her fascination with Santa and her desire to take to the skies with him.
According to this story, animals are given the ability to speak on Christmas. What's more, each animal may be granted one very special wish. What Annabelle chooses reveals the depth of her love for Tommy and helps to create more than one Christmas miracle. This is a very sweet, old-fashioned tale of a simple childhood spent on a farm, with a conclusion that is particularly touching.
When Cows Come Home for Christmas - This book celebrates country living as well, but in this case, all of the cows are thoroughly anthropomorphic. Several of them have cowbell necklaces, but they also wear suits and dresses, and they all come together for a great big jamboree in this book written by Dori Chaconas and illustrated by Lynne Chapman.
The rhyming narration in this book has a very twangy quality to it, and it's easy to imagine these cows speaking with southern drawls. In most ways, they don't particularly act like cows, especially when it comes to their food choices. No hay or grass for these bovines; they'll only accept cookies and coffee. However, they are a fair bit heavier than humans, and that comes into play in a dramatic but amusing fashion once the dancing gets underway. A silly celebration of country living and family traditions.
Millie in the Snow - This very cute book by Alexander Steffensmeier tells of Millie, a cow whose job is to deliver the mail. She works in cooperation with the affable mailman, who sends her home on Christmas Eve laden with packages for all of the animals who live on her farm and especially for the farmer, a cheerful woman upon whom he clearly has a crush.
While the story is fun, the pictures are even better, particularly the panels that depict the mailman meticulously creating his gifts and imagining how the recipients will react to them. Also entertaining are the birds popping up throughout the book in a variety of amusing ways. Funniest of all, though, is what happens when Millie, after her arduous ordeal in getting home in the midst of a sudden blizzard, delivers gifts whose tags got all mixed up in the wind.
One Winter's Night - A rather strange book by Dr. John Herman, this features realistic paintings by Leo and Diane Dillon and somber text. Though the setting appears to be fairly modern, it seems we are meant to see the human couple in this book as Mary and Joseph. Mary is not the only one about to give birth in the barn in this tale; rather, the cow Martha is expecting as well, and they both go into labor around the same time.
As strictly a Nativity book, this falls short, what with the curious setting and the lack of emphasis on the divinity of Jesus. However, Herman does make a statement about the miraculous nature of birth in general that encourages readers to have a reverence for life, and the paintings are gorgeous and show Mary and Joseph in a very compassionate light.
Looking for Santa Claus - In this Henrik Descher book, Maggie is a young girl who lives with her cantankerous aunts. Tired of their disdain for Christmas and their constant barrage of chores, Maggie accepts the invitation of Blossom the cow to go on a magical adventure. Soon they are flying together across the world, and though it's completely unclear how Maggie is able to fly, it's a fun trip.
Drescher's prose is very simple, and most pages only feature one sentence or even a portion of a sentence. The focus is more on the illustration, which have a rather folksy quality to them, especially once they begin to encounter various incarnations of Santa Claus from different parts of the world, and it's fun to see variations on Santa with different traits and names, all from the back of a flying cow.
Santa Cows - An exceedingly silly riff on A Visit From St. Nicholas. Written by Cooper Edens and Daniel Lane, it follows the basic pattern of the famous poem by Clement C. Moore, but instead of Santa Claus, it concerns the arrival of Santa Cows, who fly through the sky like reindeer but deliver goodies like Santa. They also wear fuzzy Santa hats. The narration is endearingly goofy, from the descriptions of the cows as having eyes and lips like Liz Taylor's to the reference to "a sky full of udders".
Meanwhile, the watercolor illustrations are quite lovely, especially in their depiction of the cows, while also humorous. Little details sprinkled throughout the book include a box of Domino's Pizza, a bag of Lay's potato chips and a can of 7-Up, which makes me wonder if Lane was getting paid for product placement. The book lavishes praise on these cows to a hyperbolic extent, but there's no doubt that they would make a big impression if they showed up at your door.
It isn't rare to find cows in Christmas books, but for those who really love these creatures, a bit more of a starring role might be preferred, and that's what they will find in these books.