Real Cowboys

illus. by Jonathan Bean. 32p. HMH. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780544148925.
RedReviewStarPreS-Gr 3—Hoefler takes readers into the daily lives of cowboys. Almost every page turn reveals a different personality trait or behavior, from being "quiet in the morning, careful not to wake the people…in the hollow" to being "strong, and tough, and homesick at the same time." Her portrayal shows skilled and sensitive caretakers who sing to calm the cattle or help them sleep. Always alert to danger and environmental cues, they communicate with other cowhands and their dogs to try to keep their herds safe and to prevent stampedes. When they lose an animal, "real cowboys cry." Bean employs stylized, hand-stenciled shapes in muted, digitally composed scenes. Various shades of brown, depicting the cattle, soil, and other elements, are worked (along with white) into a controlled palette of turquoise, mustard yellow, and orange-red; these colors appear individually or in combination. The moods range from tense—when a dust storm pelts the fleeing animals—to cheerful, when, in a red-and-white Escher-like cattle crossing, an aspiring cowboy waves from the backseat of a car. The language is lyrical, with one or two sentences per page describing the patience and consideration exhibited by these professionals, who "are as many different colors as the earth" and "are girls, too."
VERDICT This subtle, expressionistic view may not hold the attention of children who prefer realistic art or constant action, but it provides a fresh, multidimensional glimpse at those who make their home on the range.—Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library
There's not a howdy to be heard in this hymn to contemporary cowboys, providing a nice contrast to the many jokey books about them. A sentence beginning "real cowboys…" introduces each new task or scene ("Real cowboys are safe. They pull their hats low because the sun can burn, and wear chaps so the cacti and brush don't cut them"), and a fair number of life lessons are thus introduced ("Real cowboys are patient…" "Real cowboys take turns…" "Real cowboys want peace…") and saved from smarminess by their concrete grounding in real cowboy tasks. Young cowpokes will appreciate the seriousness given to their passion, an apparent respect shared by Bean's dramatic illustrations, "hand-stenciled shapes and textures layered with the computer and printed in four Pantone colors." With details that verge on the abstract, each page-turn comes as a visual surprise, moving, say, from a double-page spread of a cowboy herding cattle across a highway to a tender close-up of a cowboy rescuing a calf tangled in cacti. A three-spread sequence of a dust storm and stampede is ferociously exciting but ends with a lament for thus-lost cattle and dogs: "Real cowboys cry." The book ends with an existential turn entirely in keeping with the ongoing atmosphere, but those musings about life after death might be lost on young ranch hands. roger sutton
In this hymn to contemporary cowboys, a sentence beginning with "real cowboys..." introduces each new task or scene ("Real cowboys are patient..."). Young cowpokes will appreciate the seriousness given to their passion, an apparent respect shared by Bean's dramatic illustrations. With details that verge on the abstract, each page turn comes as a visual surprise. The book ends with an existential turn.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing