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