When September rolled around, I found myself reaching for The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog. It’s an autographed copy, and if you ever have the chance to hear John R. Erickson in person, pull on your boots and skedaddle over to hear him read and sing and play his banjo. You’ll let out a hearty yeehaw by the end.
I’ve written about the power of Hank the Cowdog before. And about his creator, John R. Erickson, who originally sold his books out of the back of his pickup truck. These semi-mysterious tales of a woebegotten dog who works as head of ranch security at a remote spot in the Texas Panhandle were favorites in our home.
But I don’t think I truly understood Hank’s magic until my husband began reading this book to a friend in his 70s who was recovering from surgery. This man had never had anyone read aloud to him. He never had children, so he had never read aloud to anyone himself. So perhaps the first paragraph he ever heard read to him was this:
It’s me again, Hank the Cowdog. I just got some terrible news. There’s been a murder on the ranch.”
The murder of a chicken, one of Sally May’s hens. And there are coyote tracks. Hank is on the job!
But the joke is that Hank is terrible at his job — throughout the entire series. He would never be part of a K-9 police or military unit. He’s what my Panhandle family members would call “just a dog-dog,” a no-count mongrel who means well but is always in the way. And yet by the end of every book somehow it all comes around right.
The Hank the Cowdog series consists of seventy-four books, and Erickson is still writing. The books are written at a middle-grade reading level, and they can be read in any order or none at all. Next month Erickson will release an illustrated history titled Finding Hank: The Most-Often Asked Questions about Hank the Cowdog. After selling more than nine millions books, there are second- and third-generation Hank fans who want to know his origin story. I am one of them.
But sadly, Erickson’s illustrator for forty-one years, Gerald L. Holmes, passed away about three weeks ago. Erickson said his collaborator’s illustrations “deliver the blessing of innocent laughter.”
Our friend who heard his first Hank book? He laughed and laughed and laughed. And he got better. I have to believe Hank had something to do with it. Because no matter how often he blows it, the head of ranch security always manages to get one thing right:
You make the world a little safer, a little better.”
1. Series are standards in the children’s book world. Which ones did you or your kids enjoy?
2. Crime and mystery stories are the second-biggest category in fiction (the first is romance). These sorts of tales are available for kids too, in a variety of levels of intensity — some more about solving the puzzle, some more focused on the crime. What have been some favorites in your house?
3. Who is your favorite fictional dog?
The next Children’s Book Club will meet Friday, November 8. We will read Dotty, by Erica S. Perl and illustrated by Julia Denos. Get your special string ready!
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“Megan Willome has captured the essence of crow in this delightful children’s collection. Not only do the poems introduce the reader to the unusual habits and nature of this bird, but also different forms of poetry as well.”
—Michelle Ortega, poet and children’s speech pathologist