I grew up on a farm surrounded by cows and calves. My daughter, Amy, is a dancer. Is it any surprise I wrote a story about a dancing cow? I never saw a dancing cow in our pasture, but I often helped my father call the cows in for milking. He sounded a lot like Farmer Gibson calling Rose, Lily, and the rest of the herd. “Come on in Rose. Milking Time!”
Growing up around the farm, I learned quite a bit about cows and dairying. When I was a teen, I was selected as a Kansas Dairy Princess. I didn’t realize knowing about cows could get you a crown, but it did.
My father, Eugene Willard Krehbiel, grew up in a family of Mennonite farmers. When he was a boy, his dream was to have a registered Ayrshire herd. Ayrshires are not a well-known breed, but Prince Charles of England thinks they are a tough and beautiful breed just as my father did. Prince Charles keeps a 180 cow herd on his Duchy Home Farm.
Lily fans may be surprised to learn that in the original story version, Lily did not end up as a Conga cow.
When I first sent Lily, the Dancing Bell Cow (That was the original title.) to my fantastic editor at Dial, Karen told me it was “a fun story with a “moovelous” main character.” (Karen has a sense of humor.) Then she added a “however.” (Sometimes I don’t like “howevers”, but this ended up being a good one.)
You see, I’d originally ended the story with Lily as a Morris dancer. “What’s a Morris dancer?” you ask. That’s exactly what Karen asked. She didn’t know what Morris dancing was; she had to look it up on the internet! She and another editor had the idea to change the dance to the conga. I’m glad I have great editors! Lily makes a perfect Conga Cow!
“But what is Morris dancing?” It’s a dance that originated in England. The dancers wear scores of bells on their legs and arms. I thought a dance with bells would be a perfect dance for a bell cow. What do you think?
I still love Morris dancing, but I’m glad Lily ended up as the “prancing, dancing Conga Cow.”
Researching the different world dances was one of the most enjoyable parts of writing Lily’s story. I had enough dances to fill an entire picture book, but I had to choose just a few. These are some that made the cut.
“Life is made up of individual dreams. I remember as a child we kids would play under the branches of two rows of cedar trees with our dreams. We’d stake out little farms and have great enjoyment. Lengths of corn cobs were the animals. Different pieces of metal from the junk pile were the machinery. Roller bearings were the milk cans.
In my high school days, I was on the livestock judging team and fell in love with the Ayrshire breed of cattle. Every so often I’d buy a cow and in time I had a very good start in registered Ayrshires. My folks kept these cattle while I was working at different jobs. All this time I longed for the farm and I joined the Ayrshire Breeders’ Association.
In 1951, the family made the move to an old house near the home place. I farmed in partnership with my dad and registered a farm name after a few years: Highland Ayr Registered Ayrshire Farm. With a great struggle, I purchased the home property and farm and farmed there for twenty-seven years. I did fulfill my dream. ”
- IRA-CBC Children’s Choices List 2005
- Mississippi Mockingbird award nominee – 2006-2007
- Master Reading List – Missouri 2005
- 150 Best Kansas Books, selected for the 2011 Kansas Sesquicentennial by Kansas State Library
School Library Journal
“This witty picture book stars a dairy cow who will soon inherit the position of “Bell Cow”…Arnold’s amusing characters and clever text come to life through Manders’ comical cartoon illustrations. Peppered with playful humor, his pencil-sketch and paint technique gives the images a distinctive look. This great read-aloud provides a subtle message and a guaranteed good time.”
“twinkle-hooved Lily leaves her slower-mooooving fieldmates to travel the world in search of a Place. High-stepping fare…”
“a spirited heifer who dreams of being a hoofer takes center stage in this light-on-its-hooves tale about following one’s muse…Arnold’s bovine fantasy with its silly tone and quick-step pacing will keep kids’ attention and Manders’ watercolor-and-pencil compositions possess an appropriately free-line, madcap edge.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“…a wildly imaginative story that celebrates the iconoclast who’s looking for her niche. The art is a crack-up.”
Red Rock News
“‘The Good, The Great and The Awful’ books” (Lily was The Great, of course!) “My nomination for “great” is the rather wacky, heartwarming story of Prancing, Dancing Lily. This author imbues Lily with such a winning personality that I predict adults will enjoy it as much as the children. Unlike most children’s books where the protagonist finds that there’s no place like home and/or their destiny, Lily finally comes home and gets the entire herd of cows to dance and prance as she does. A triumph for oppositional-disordered people everywhere! Viva, Lily!”
California Kids! Family Fun Guide
“a story sure to appeal to anyone who ever felt out of place. Cartoon-like art perfectly enhances this sweetly uplifting story.”
The Press Democrat
“This charming story from the award-winning Sebastopol children’s author recounts the adventures of a spirited Wisconsin cow who would rather dance than graze all day.”