About the Holiday
Observed annually on the third Saturday of July, the day commemorates the “contributions of the Cowboy and Cowgirl to America’s culture and heritage. The heyday of the cowboy and cowgirl came after the Civil War when Texas experienced a booming wild cattle population. As the United States grew and people moved West, the demand for beef in the Northern states grew. Cowboys and cowgirls drove nearly 5 million head of cattle north, sparking tales, legends, and a rich history of the Great Plains in their boot and hoof steps.
Written by Tammi Sauer | Illustrated by Mike Reed
In the first moments of Cowboy Camp, Avery sizes up the other kids (both boys and girls) and decides he “was all wrong.” Not only is his belt buckle too big and his hat too small, but his name is completely UNcowboy. When the Camp leader, Cowboy Dan, introduces himself, Avery thinks he is “the realest looking cowboy” he’s ever seen. Cowboy Dan promises to turn the “little ragamuffins” into real walkin’, talkin’ cowboys. But first a chow time of grits and beans!
All the other buckaroos dig into their plate eagerly, but Avery spits out his very first bite and is relegated to eating cheese and crackers. “Whoever heard of a cowboy who doesn’t like grits and beans?” Avery thinks. Next up, announces Dan, is horse riding. All the kids saddle up. “It wasn’t but a minute later” though that Avery starts sneezing and has to ride a cow instead.
Surely, lassoing will be easier, he reasons. “It wasn’t but a minute later,” however, that his hands are red and chaffed with rope burn and he has to practice with yarn. “Whoever heard of a cowboy who got rope burn?” he thinks. A bit dejected, Avery sits in front of the campfire trying to think cowboy thoughts after all the other kids have “turned in for some shut-eye.” “It wasn’t but a minute later that Avery discovered he wasn’t alone.” Creeping out of the shadows is the meanest looking cowboy Avery has ever seen.
“‘I’m Black Bart,’” the mean looking cowboy says. He tells Avery that he’s there to put a stop to Cowboy Camp because “‘Cowboy Dan and his gang of good cowboys are makin’ it too hard to be a bad guy.’” Avery does some quick thinking. He doesn’t want anything to happen to Cowboy Dan or the camp. He stutters out that this isn’t Cowboy Camp, but Space Camp. Black Bart isn’t so easily fooled. Sensing disaster, Avery gives himself up as proof: “‘Sir,’” asks Avery, “‘Do I look like cowboy material?’”
To root out the truth Black Bart gives Avery three tests. First he opens a can of beans from his saddlebag. “‘All cowboys eat beans,’” Bart exclaims. Avery takes a tiny taste from the can and begins coughing and wheezing. “‘Hmm…’” says Bart. Next he sets Avery on his horse. “‘All cowboys ride horses,’” Bart exclaims, but as soon as Avery sits astride the horse, he begins sneezing. “‘Hmm…’” says Bart. He hands Avery his rope. “‘All cowboys know how to lasso,’” Bart exclaims. Avery grabs the rope and immediately begins crying in pain.
Black Bart has seen enough. “‘You’re no cowboy,’” he agrees. With time a wastin’ to find and stop the real cowboys, Black Bart saddles up and turns his horse toward the rising sun. “‘It wasn’t but a minute later’” that the other campers and Cowboy Dan arrive. Dan congratulates Avery on his bravery and quick wit and proclaims that “‘No one but a real cowboy could outsmart the likes of Black Bart the way you just did.’” Avery smiles. He finally feels like a “real honest-to-goodness cowboy.”
In Avery, Tammi Sauer has created a welcome hero—a boy who uses his individual talents of intelligence and bravery to defeat the bad guy and comes to realize that he does fit into the group. Sauer’s witty plot line is a joy to read and offers real surprise when Black Bart appears on the scene. Bart’s “cowboy test” in which Avery’s supposed failings become his greatest assets is inspired. The realistic dialogue with a Western twang transports kids to the Great Plains and is fun to read, while the repeated “uh-oh” moment—“It wasn’t but a minute later that Avery discovered…”—elicits suspense and will have kids reading along.
Mike Reed beautifully captures the allure of the Wild West in his humorous, sometimes larger-than-life illustrations. The golden plains of Cowboy Camp stretch to the red-rock plateaus in the distance while scrub grass and cacti pop up here and there. Cowboy Dan has a chin almost as long as his 20-gallon hat is tall, and Black Bart is perfectly scruffy and menacing, with a long black coat and bolo tie, as he creeps out of the midnight blue shadows to confront Avery by campfire light. Kids will both sympathize with Avery’s travails even as they giggle at his evocative expressions.
An ingenious bit of illustration occurs in Reed’s depiction of Avery. Although Avery feels as if his belt buckle is too big and his hat too small, in reality both of these are the same size as the other kids. Moreover, a side-by-side comparison with Cowboy Dan, the “realest cowboy,” shows that Avery looks almost identical to his hero with both wearing grey vests and hats. (You can even measure the hats for yourself!) In addition, the other campers are all different in some way, emphasizing the idea that everyone is unique and has their own place in any group and the world in general.
Both for the wonderful story and the burst of confidence building provided, Cowboy Camp belongs on every young reader’s bookshelf.
Ages 4 – 9
Sterling Publishing Co., 2014 | ISBN 978-1454913603 (Paperback) | ISBN 978-1454913894 (Board Book)
To view more of Tammi Sauer’s books and learn what she’s working on next, visit her website!
National Day of the Cowboy Activity
The Best Durn Tootin’ Cowboy and Cowgirl Coloring Pages
Well, buckaroos, here’s your chance to create your own Wild West scene. Just print out these Best Durn Tootin’ Coloring Pages and have a rip roarin’ blast!