Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Review: The Dirty Cowboy, by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Adam Rex

     "Now, one morning - and no one knows for sure what drives a man to it - this cowboy decided to clean himself up. Regular bathers would've said the signs had been plenty clear: the cowboy's hair housed thirty-two fleas and a small gray spider.
     On three recent occasions he'd discovered a tumbleweed in his chaps. A flurry of flies flocked round his body buzzing so persistently that he experienced a distinct loss of hearing in his left ear. And the cowboy's stench stuck to passersby like mud splashed up from a wagon wheel."

Ah, the life of a cowboy: roundin' up cattle, cookin' up some vittles, singin' songs around the campfire, with only his trusty steed and loyal dog for company. Yessir, life sure is perfect for a cowboy...until he gets it in his head that he oughta prob'ly have hisself a bath. The cowboy in this story sets out to do just that. Just gettin' to the river takes some doin,' but he gets there alright, and charges his dog with guardin' his duds. An' then he heads to the river, nearly-new bar of lye soap in hand, an' he gets good and clean. But, once he fixes t' go git his duds back? Well, that's when things get interestin.'

For Teachers and Librarians:
First of all, The Dirty Cowboy is a laugh-out-loud, fun book to read aloud. Your students will delight in the antics of the cowboy and his dog, and giggle at the illustrations that add even more to the fun. 

But how else can you work this into your curriculum? You can easily link this to a unit on the Old West, or the life of a cowboy, or a humorous take on the importance of good hygiene. How about a discussion on friendship - how well do they know their friends? If their friend always used apple-scented shampoo, then one day switched to banana-scented shampoo, would they be able to figure out what was different? That could lend itself well to a mini-unit on senses - the dog's nose told him that guy wasn't his cowboy, but his eyes told him it was, and he didn't know which to trust. Has this sensory confusion ever happened to your students? Have them discuss. How about a writing exercise: use the dog's confusion at recognizing his cowboy as a model, and have the kids come up with their own scenario, using any two senses, as long as the info conflicts enough to make one character confused about the other. 

You can slip some map skills in there, too. The cowboy follows a map to get to the river, complete with time frames for each part of the journey. Have your charges, individually or in groups, pretend they are cowboys and cowgirls, and create a map to get them from their campsite to a destination of their choosing (the local town, perhaps, or a watering hole, or a wayward steer, etc). 

And I don't want to forget to mention: The Dirty Cowboy is a tall tale. Have your students identify the parts of the story that make it so. Then maybe create a whole-class tall tale, with everyone joining in with ideas, and let kids illustrate their favorite parts, and assemble it all into a classroom book. Possibilities are endless, but unfortunately my space is not. What other ideas do you have?

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Your kiddos will have so much fun with The Dirty Cowboy, whether they read it themselves, or you read it to them. If you've got a reluctant bather, this may be just the gentle nudge they need to get themselves to the tub with a smidge less complaint. Besides the obvious issue of the ordeal of getting clean when one only takes a single yearly bath, it's also about friendship, and loyalty, and how sometimes what you know about a friend doesn't always match what you see, and it's not always easy to figure out what to do when that happens. And if you don't get it right, a simple apology for a misunderstanding goes a long way. But perhaps most important of all, The Dirty Cowboy is a really funny story, with fantastic pictures that add even more to the tale, and will have you and your kiddos chuckling about it long after you've closed the book.

For the Kids:
If you like cowboys, and the Old West, and funny stories, then this is the book for you. And if you don't like any of that, then this is still the book for you. Why? Because The Dirty Cowboy isn't your usual cowboy story. Well, I take that back. It starts out that way, with the rounding up of cattle, and sitting by the campfire, and singing songs, and stuff like that. But then, the cowboy decides it's time to take a bath. (You would, too, if you had doodlebugs living in your eyebrows.) 

But for the cowboy, taking a bath is not as easy as hopping in the tub. (Silly! Cowboys don't have bathtubs. Heck, they don't even have bathrooms.) First he has to saddle up his horse, then ride all day to get to the river. And then, he has to get his dog to guard his clothes. After that, he can finally soap up in the river and get clean. And after that, all he has to do is get dressed again. And that's when all the trouble starts. What trouble? Better find the book so you can find out - you won't want to miss this!

Wrapping Up:
The Dirty Cowboy is a delightful story: part tall tale, part cautionary tale, part cowboy yarn, and all-around fun to read. Make sure you give yourself time to enjoy the illustrations. They're part and parcel of the story, and both words and pictures will have you laughing out loud. This is a book that you'll want to return to time and time again.

Title: The Dirty Cowboy
Author: Amy Timberlake
Illustrator: Adam Rex
Pages: 32
Reading Level: Ages 4-8
Publisher and Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003
Edition: 1st
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $16.95
ISBN-10: 0-374-31791-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-374-31791-1

Author Spotlight: Author Amy Timberlake, and Author + Illustrator Adam Rex

Amy Timberlake comes from a storytelling family who put just as much importance on listening to a tale, as they did to telling it:

"On my dad's side of the family," she says, "there was a respect for letting a person tell a story in their own style (and, by the way, style and elaboration were appreciated). You did not interrupt, even if a person spoke for a good 20 minutes."

It was one particular tale which her grandfather used to tell, which came from a true story her great-grandfather used to tell, which he supposedly told to a New Mexico newspaper, that gave her the spark for what eventually became her first picture book. The original story (or something close to it) takes up one short paragraph. But Amy Timberlake took that story and fleshed it out some, and wrestled with it some, and between her and illustrator Adam Rex, they stretched that short tale into a tall one: The Dirty Cowboy, (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003).

Since then, Ms Timberlake has gone on to write a middle grade novel, That Girl Lucy Moon (Hyperion, 2006), and has a third title in the works with Knopf, tentatively titled Pigeon-Shot, with a possible release date of 2012.

Ms Timberlake is a member of the Illinois chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She has taught writing at the Visual Arts Center in Richmond, VA, and at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she also received a M.A. in English/Creative Writing. She has been a book reviewer and columnist, a book event coordinator, the Public Information Officer at the Virginia Commission for the Arts, and a children's bookseller. She has also worked for the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Amy Timberlake grew up in Hudson, Wisconsin, and now lives with her husband in Chicago, Illinois.

* * *

Growing up in  Phoenix, Arizona, Adam Rex saw his older brother as "the smart one," and his younger sister as "the cute one," but he saw himself as "the one who could draw." So, he took a lot of art classes, hoping to improve his drawing skills. Then, when he was 11, he began painting. From there, he went on later to receive a BFA from the University of Arizona.

He used his talents to produce illustrations for fantasy role-playing games, and then broke into illustrating children's books. He is well known in children's illustrating circles for creating sculptures to use as models for his illustrations. The Dirty Cowboy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), written by Amy Timberlake, is his first picture book. When asked about his switch to children's book illustration, Adam Rex responded:

"I've always had a love of inventing stories, so I think it was natural I should gravitate toward kids' books, where words and pictures often share the stage equally. That or comics, which I also love."

Since then, Mr. Rex has illustrated a variety of picture books, some of which he also wrote. In 2007, he wrote and illustrated his first middle grade novel: The True Meaning of Smekday (Hyperion). His next novel, Fat Vampire (a young adult title), came out in July 2010.

Adam Rex lives with his wife, Marie, in Tucson, Arizona, where he "draws, paints, writes, spends too much time on the internet, and listens to public radio."

* * *

Amy Timberlake Official Site - Bio
Amy Timberlake - Children's Literature Network
Amy Timberlake Biography -
Insights From Illinois Authors - article excerpt
Help! The Writing Process of The Dirty Cowboy: From Family Story to Published Book

Adam Rex Official Site - Bio
Interview with King of the Monster Illustrators Adam Rex - GeekDad from
Letter to Myself: Adam Rex - Anna Staniszewski website
Adam Rex Interview - BSC Kids
Local Author Profile: Adam Rex -

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Day to Share a Kind Word, or a Helpful Deed, or Both

Did you wake up today with the irresistible urge to encourage someone? Share some kindness? Help someone out? Do some good? Well, today is the perfect day for it, because January 26th is:

Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement

No, I am not making this up. Ralph C. Morrison did. Well, he and a group of dedicated Voluntoads. 

Yes, you read that right: Voluntoads

Perhaps a bit of backstory is in order.

First, just what is Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement?
Simply put, it is a day to make a heartfelt connection with others, to share "a kind word with your fellow man." 

So. Heartfelt connection? Share a kind word? Got it. But, how did THDoE come about?
It all started with an old schoolhouse, an elderly lady, and a storyteller. The schoolhouse, built in 1834, sat at the end of Knox Street, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A lass by the name of Eunice was a student at that school, way back when. Then, many years later, Eunice was profiled in the local paper, and mentioned her old school. 

At the time the article was published, Eunice was once again a student, this time taking a community college class taught by one Ralph C. Morrison. Mr. Morrison read the article about Eunice. And when he came to the bit about Eunice's girlhood school, he fell in love with the name:

Toad Hollow Country School

The Power of Words
So smitten was Mr. Morrison with those words, that he began using two of them in his other gig besides teaching: storytelling. He invented several yarns about the soon legendary Toad Hollow. And when audiences, equally smitten with the place, asked its whereabouts, all he would say was that it could only be found "in your heart."

Legend Becomes Reality
Toad Hollow continued to exist solely in folks' hearts, through Mr. Morrison's tales. Until one day, when Kalamazoo County officials offered him land from a seldom-used park, to be used for his storytelling. He accepted. Then he formed a non-profit, all-volunteer society to operate the park, in 1992. Together, he and the volunteers built an 1800's pioneer homestead and town, and refurbished the old grist mill that was already there.

Toad Hollow, finally a reality, hosted all sorts of events, including Renaissance Fairs, Civil War reenactments, etc. At one time, Toad Hollow's all-volunteer staff numbered over one hundred. They referred to themselves as "Voluntoads," and ran classes on blacksmithing, quilting, and soap and candle making. Then three years later, the county reclaimed the property. All but the grist mill was donated by Toad Hollow to other historic organizations and museums. The site is now known as Scotts Mill Park.

But, that was not the end of the beloved Toad Hollow. The Voluntoads picked up where they had left off in the town, only now they did so off-campus. They started seven schools, with storytelling, writing, barbecuing, and early American arts and trades among the offerings, which they kept running until 2003.

That all sounds awesome. But, you still haven't said how the actual day came to be.
No, I didn't. 'Cause every good story always has an equally awesome backstory, doesn't it? At least this one does. But we're done with the backstory, so let's get back to the original question in question: 

How did THDoE come about?

The long and short of it is, Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement sprang from the Voluntoads' labor of love in sharing what they knew with others, first in Toad Hollow, and then in the later classes they offered. They believed that proclaiming Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement would motivate folks to act similarly - share what they know, help where they can - not only on January 26th, but every other day, too.

And they didn't stop there. They also created Toad Hollow Day of Thank You (June 20th), and Toad Hollow Week of Encouragement (mid-March). But those are other stories for another time.

Join in the fun
So, how will you share what you know with others today? How about coming over and sharing your snow shoveling skills with me and my fluffy, snow-covered driveway?


Oh, well. It was worth a shot.

Thanks for visiting, and I hope you find a way to connect with others on this very snowy (for my corner of the world, at least) Toad Hollow Day of Encouragement.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Appreciation of Dragons: One Kid's Journey

And not just any kid, mind you. Today, Bugs and Bunnies readers, you are in for a treat. Guest blogging today - in honor of Appreciate a Dragon Day - is Chez Wheedleton's very own Lovely Girl:

How I Appreciate Dragons
By: Lovely Girl

I may be my family's resident dragon fanatic, but I wasn't always that way. I first started a couple of years ago. My math and science teacher loved dragons, so one day I drew her one. I didn't realize until later that I forgot the wings! But once I did, I thought to myself: I can do better that THAT! So, I started drawing some more. 

Eventually, I realized the best way to draw dragons is to see one in person. Unfortunately, there are no live dragons where we live. So I did the next best thing, finding pictures of dragons, and reading about dragons. I started to read more and more and more dragon books: How to Train Your Dragon, Dragon Rider, Eragon, Dragonology...the list goes on and on. 

I guess all that drawing and reading rubbed off on me, because I had the idea for some dragon stories of my own. So, I wrote them, and illustrated them, and all of that led up to the biggest dragon story yet! (It has 56 chapters!)

In other words, I don't just appreciate dragons. I live and breathe them. I may sound like a giant nerd, but yeah, it's the truth. Over the years, my stories and drawings have gone from better to great, to totally AWESOME! I've combined my drawings and stories, and have started making dragon comics. (Granted, I'm only done three pages, but still!)

I also make pipe cleaner dragons, which were super popular last year. I brought one to school one day, and when kids at school saw them, so many people asked me to make them one that the list was almost three pages long! And all I'd meant to do was give my friends one! I have three for myself: my first one - the big green one in the back row - is Earthstar, who stars in a few of my stories; and the two little green ones are Redburn and Splashlight. The red and yellow ones are the ones I made for my mom:

So, learn a lesson from my story, and get out there and Appreciate a Dragon!

And now, Lovely Girl is out.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 16th is Appreciate a Dragon Day!

Dragons. One little word that conjures up a variety of things to a variety of people. Some of us believe they exist, and some don't. But whether you're in the Heck-Yeah-They-Exist camp, or the Whatta-Buncha-Hooey camp, I think we can all agree that there's a ton of stuff to be found on these creatures - real or not.

References to dragons can be found in myth, in legend, in literature, in song, in art, in films, in toys, and even in video games. They are depicted in various forms: cute, hideous, good, evil, smart, stupid, helpful, stubborn, frightening, harmless, winged, wingless, ancient, contemporary, and everything in between. And oh, the things they can (and can't) do: Some can fly and others can't. Some can talk, and some can breathe fire, and some can do both, and some can do neither, and some can even converse with each other - and with people - telepathically. They have reared their controversial heads in cultures stretching from East to West, and North to South.

Yet whether revered, or feared, or merely tolerated, dragons have captured the hearts and imaginations of people all over the world. So much so, in fact, that dragons have their own official holiday:

Appreciate a Dragon Day

Observed every year on January 16th, Appreciate a Dragon Day is the brainchild of children's author Donita K. Paul, who created the holiday as part of the celebration of the release of her middle grade novel, DragonSpell, in 2004. Since that initial celebration, Appreciate a Dragon Day ( or AADD, for short) has continued, with everyone from kids to adults to public libraries joining in the fun.

Wondering how you can join in the festivities? Here are a few ideas from AADD's creator:
  • Make dragon puppets, and then put on a puppet show for family, friends, and/or neighbors.
  • Create drawings, sculptures, stories, poems, or some other creative endeavor featuring dragons.
  • Grab your camera, and your stuffed dragon (you do have one, don't you?), and get creative: take photos of your dragon in funny places - eating at a restaurant, reading a book, waiting at a bus stop, etc.

Here are a few more from Julie Darleen Durr's AADD article:
  • Design and create dragon jewelry.
  • Make up and play dragon games.
  • Create a dragon song, or a rap - or both.
  • Go outside and build a snow dragon.

And here are a few from me:
  • If you don't have snow, and you're at the beach (you lucky, lucky soul), then how about building a sand dragon? 
  • Make and decorate dragon sugar cookies.
  • Watch movies with dragons in them. (Pete's Dragon comes to mind, or Mulan, or Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Or How to Train Your Dragon.)
  • Check out your local public library. Are they doing anything to celebrate? And while you're there...
  • Read some dragon books. We here at Chez Wheedleton have a fair collection of them, if you need some ideas to get you started:

However you choose to celebrate, we here at Chez Wheedleton wish you luck in finding a fun way to appreciate a dragon tomorrow. We certainly appreciate ours*:

*(His name is Smurf. He's very sweet. And he hardly ever singes the carpet.)

Appreciate a Dragon Day - Donita K. Paul
Appreciate a Dragon Day - Furries Online
Celebrate Appreciate a Dragon Day - Associated Content (Julie Darleen Durr)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

LICKSPITTLE! Or: The Joy of Reading Stuff That's Very Random in Nature

So. I'm sitting with Lovely Girl this morning - she with her Rice Krispies and her hot chocolate, reading a book; me with my coffee, reading the Twitter feed on my phone.

She's reading Things Not Seen, by Andrew Clements - a story about a kid who comes out of the shower one morning to find he has become invisible. 

I'm reading...well...tweets. About nothing in particular.

Yet while my morning reading material is Very Random in Nature, it does contain something quite interesting: A Very Awesome Word. It is so awesome, in fact, that I know merely reading it to myself will not do this Very Awesome Word justice. So, I shout it out loud: 


Lovely Girl doesn't even flinch. (She's quite accustomed to my random outbursts.) She just calmly looks up from her book. "Lickspittle?"

I explain that it is part of a "List of the Day" tweet by online dictionary wordnik, which I follow on Twitter (as any self-respecting Word Nerd should). 

Then I shout it out loud again: 


and giggle to myself as I add it to my "Words I Like" list, which I keep with me at all times (as any self-respecting Word Nerd would).

Then I look up at Lovely Girl. "Let's look it up!" She may not share my enthusiasm, but she doesn't protest at being included, either, so when I find a few definitions via Google, I read them out loud - though I do refrain from shouting:
  • from a fawning subordinate
  • from Wikipedia (which redirects from "lickspittle" to "sycophancy"): obsequious flattery; servility
  • from my computer's dictionary: a person who behaves obsequiously to those in power
  • from Wictionary: a fawning toady; a base sycophant; (by extension) the practice of giving empty flattery for personal gain

"So," Lovely Girl breaks in, reaching for her mug: 

"A suck-up." 

And just like that, she's cut off my rambling definitional glee with a synonym and a definition, both neatly rolled into one easily understood word. Her English teacher would be proud.

All I know is, suck-up is just as much fun to say as lickspittle

And yes, it's going on The List.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Very Different Approach

If this doesn't convince you to wear your seatbelt, I don't know what will:

Have a happy - and safe - New Year.