Hank the Cowdog 2
By Bryan McBride, Learning and Information Services Librarian
“It’s me again, Hank the Cowdog.” These words begin every book in the Hank the Cowdog series, followed closely by “Head of Ranch Security.” There are currently 73 volumes in this series, and they do not need to be read in order. Hank can be found on the shelves of the children’s library, and these books are fun! He has a sidekick named Drover, whose “bum leg” seems to act up any time there’s trouble on the ranch and Hank needs help with security. Hank’s nemesis, Pete the Barncat, shows up to keep him in line when he gets a little too big for his britches. Also present to keep Hank in his place is the ranch hand, Slim Chance, and Slim’s boss, Loper.
Other characters who are present from time to time include a lazy, no-account bird dog named Plato, as well as Beulah, the canine of Hank’s dreams. Hank also thinks highly of Missy Coyote, but her brothers, Rip and Snort, are not the kind of running mates that Hank wants helping with security. There would be concerns about his own safety as well as that of the henhouse. Then there are the two vultures, Wallace and Junior, always looking for their next meal.
The suggested reading level for Hank the Cowdog is ages 8 – 12 years, but here’s the thing: they are terrific read-aloud books for all ages. I started reading these books to my boys when my youngest was four years old, and he was far too young to understand much of what was happening in the stories. For me, it was fun to do the voices, and the boys enjoyed my efforts, so we kept at it. And kept at it, until my oldest was about sixteen years old, by which time they fully understood what was happening and we laughed and laughed and laughed at the adventures of ol’ Hank the Cowdog, Head of Ranch Security. We must have read at least 40 books in all. I just can’t overemphasize what an important bonding experience it was. As an alternative to reading aloud as children grow into teens, some parents find value in reading the same books as their kids as a way to connect.
We don’t often consider the social aspect of reading, although there was a time in our history when people discussed books they were reading rather than the current television shows of today. Thank goodness for book discussion groups, like our TALK series. If you enjoy book discussion groups, inquire at the library’s reference desk about the TALK series. They meet monthly in the spring and fall, and you can pick and choose which discussions interest you.
The aspect of social reading we are most likely to consider is the art and science of teaching children to read by reading aloud to them. There is research that backs up the adage: “Through third grade, kids learn to read. After third grade, kids read to learn.” An Annie E. Casey Foundation report summarizes: “The ability to read by third grade is critical to a child’s success in school, life-long earning potential and their ability to contribute to the nation’s economy and its security.”
The most effective way to teach reading to children is to read aloud to them. This practice will help ensure that when they reach the fourth grade, they will be reading to learn. Formal literacy programs like our summer reading and 1000 Books before Kindergarten programs are important steps in learning to read. For more than 100 years, education researchers have been studying the phenomenon that has various names, including summer learning loss, summer setback, or summer slide. The skills of children who are not engaged in summer reading digress, or slide, from the end of the last school year to the beginning of the next school year. Summer reading programs combat this by encouraging kids to practice reading.
If you need a recommendation, don’t forget about ol’ Hank the Cowdog. After a decade of getting to know Hank, I know he’d love to tell you about his successes in keeping ranch headquarters secure. Even without Drover’s help.