Hank the Cowdog, self-appointed ranch security in the series of 54 chapter books written by former cowboy John Erickson, is not the sort of canine who inspires confidence in his human owners. His adventures, er ahem, misadventures aim to amuse and entertain your younguns with Hank’s wise advice to his underling, Drover, and his daringly heroic exploits (grin). As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a sampling of Hank products, including the paperback book The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse, The Tales and Tunes CD and The Tornado travel game for review.
Ok, I admit it, before this review came along, I had never heard of Hank the Cowdog. 54 books! Where have I been? My 9-year-old had. “Oh, yeah, I don’t like Hank.” When I asked why, his response was a bit guarded, but he said that it takes forever for the story to start. Hmmm, I decided to read it on my own before reading it to the kiddos.
The One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse (paperback $4.24 or hardback $12.49) is told from the perspective of Hank the Cowdog, who is by no means omniscient, in fact that’s where much of the humor of the book comes in, the play between his perspective and the perspectives of his human owners…let’s say they don’t have as high an opinion of him as he thinks. The story is also told in a laid-back anecdotal style, think about a stand-up comedian telling a story and going off on all sorts of tangents for comic effect. I think this is where David’s complaint comes from. The things that “happen” in the book are a little slow to happen, as the time is spent on the amusing give and take between the characters.
There’s plenty of dialog between Hank and Drover, full of cliches, mixed metaphors and misused words. “Monogamy” in place of “monotony,” for instance. Which Drover mistakes for “mahogany,” and so on. The implication is that Hank thinks he’s pretty smart but...well, let’s just say he’s a little mistaken. Oh, and Hank thinks that Drover is pretty dumb and , well, maybe he is, except when he’s doing addition in his head, apparently. He’s able to work out that 8 and 6 make 14? Let’s say character portrayal is a tad uneven. The book also plays to a number of stereotypes. For example, Sally May’s mother-in-law is described as clomping around in her old lady shoes on the gravel.
Am I being too critical? Perhaps. I don’t find the book to be particularly offensive, I just don’t see anything to recommend it over any of the other chapter books crowding the shelves at the local bookstore or library.
The CD I received, Tales and Tunes ($3) has excerpts from some of the books and 9 songs, all voiced by the author. The CD quality was good and Erickson has put real effort into developing the voices for his characters. Each song is preceded by an excerpt from the book it comes from. The songs were ok, but not particularly inspiring or memorable, in fact a few were downright “un-song-like”. “A Fundamental Disagreement,” Sally May’s monologue on how she and Hank don’t get along, is one. You can listen to samples here. The voicing of the stories was well done and it was easy to pick out the different characters, though I didn’t think much of Junior Buzzard’s stutter.
The Tornado Game (12.99) is very much like Trouble™ or Sorry™. Each player gets 3 pegs with characters on them (Hank, Drover, and Junior) and they move around the board bumping each other back to the start and running into tornados. The object is to get all three of your characters home safe first. The game board is uniquely made so that the entire game fits fits inside the board when you fold it up. The spinner locks in place when you set it up and the pegs fit into the little holes, so it’s perfect for travel. It also comes with a cassette tape with excerpts from The Case of the Swirling Killer Tornado. We had a little trouble with the spinner sticking (everybody was spinning 4’s, and since you have to spin a 1 or a 6 to start a peg, this was a bit of a problem), but a slight change in the rules remedied the problem. As game play is so similar to other games that we already have, the main thing recommending this one is the cute game pieces and the whole game’s portability.
For other reviews of these products, be sure to visit the TOS Homeschool Crew’s Blog.