Thursday, December 15, 2016

Real Cowboys, by Kate Hoefler & Jonathan Bean -- an evocative look at working on the range (ages 4--9)

Reading picture books with children brings me so much pleasure. I love it when they really get the big ideas--the surprising, unexpected ideas that authors and illustrators layer in their books--even when they haven't yet developed sophisticated language to describe these ideas.

In Real Cowboys, Kate Hoefler and Jonathan Bean ask young readers to reconsider the stereotype of a macho cowboy. It's an evocative look at working on the range, a picture book I find myself thinking about over and over again.
Real Cowboys
by Kate Hoefler
illustrated by Jonathan Bean
HMH, 2016
Your local library
ages 4-9
Right from the cover, my students could tell that this cowboy was concerned and worried about the animal he was holding. They noticed the cowboy's expression and the way he was holding the calf, with his arms wrapped around it--and they could imagine a story behind this picture.

Hoefler's text flows gently as we start to read the book. Real cowboys, she tells readers, are quiet, thoughtful, gentle, and careful. They stay with their cattle on long rides, through day and night. While the text encompasses all cowboys, Bean's illustrations help young readers see a more distinct story, following a specific cowboy, his herd and his team through their work.
"Real cowboys are gentle. They know all of the songs that keep cattle calm, moving out of storms, along dirt roads and narrow canyons."
Bean uses color to show the passing of time, from day to night as well as changing weather and seasons. The striking color palette creates a sense of pacing as each page changes. Students also noticed that time passes slowly sometimes, as cowboys stay with their herds through tough times.
"They're on cattle drives for hours, or days, or weeks, but they don't mind. Real cowboys are patient."
My students loved the layered effect of Bean's stencil artwork. They noticed how you saw perhaps the same cowboy moving across the page above, slouching over more and more as he makes his way across the page. They liked looking for different shapes in the shadows. I'm looking forward to showing them some photographs when he was creating this work, over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

My 3rd graders were not quite able to put into words how this picture book challenges the stereotypes of cowboys, but they definitely got the message that Hoefler and Bean want us to think as cowboys as caring, thoughtful and patient--and not just rushing around on horseback, chasing cattle. Even more importantly, they could make connections to how they want to act in their own lives, how they want to treat others and care for animals. As we ended the story, a quiet hush fell over the room. It was a beautiful moment.

If you want to read more about this evocative picture book, I suggest heading over to:
Illustrations © Jonathan Bean, 2016. The review copy was purchased for our school library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

No comments:

Post a Comment