Sheriff at Waterstop

Title: Sheriff at Waterstop
Author: Andy Thomson
Illustrator: Timothy Davis & Stephanie True
Pages: 125
Recommended Ages: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Western for kids!

The Story.

Micah Huggins was used to livin’ alone. As a surveyor, he had done a good bit of solitary riding in his time. Of course, that all changed when Joseph turned up at his door. The boy had lived with both cowboys and Indians, if his manners and cooking were anything to go by. He was quiet and clever – a perfect companion. But when a cowboy comes to the ranch claiming to be Joseph’s cousin – a claim which Joseph acknowledges – there’s nothing Micah can do. Joseph rides off, leaving Micah lonely – a new feeling.

In the nearby town of Waterstop, a search has been conducted – a search for a new sheriff. And the town thinks they’ve found just the man they’ve book looking for – Felix Jensen. He’s just ridden into town, but boy can he fight! He’s quick on the draw, too.

A new Christian, Felix is determined to turn Waterstop into a town of law and order. But some of the ranch hands would prefer a bit of rough-housing to a new, preachin’ sheriff.

Will Micah and Joseph be reunited? And will Felix survive the murderous threats of the unruly cowboys?

Discussion.

Although I didn’t have the chance to mention him in my synopsis, Felix’s son, Bret, is one of the main characters in Sheriff at Waterstop. The relationship between him and his father is a key element of the story.

When we first meet the Jensens, Felix is a new convert to Christianity. Prior to his conversion he worked at a bar, serving liquor to troublemakers, then thrashing them when they started to make trouble. He was a hard man for whom neither his wife or son had any respect.

But then he became a Christian. He realized that he needed to be a better example for his son and a better leader for his wife. He set about trying to win back their love and respect. When we join the story, Felix’s wife trusts him again, but Bret is unsure. He’s been so hurt by his father’s absence and meanness that he isn’t even sure that he wants to try to reestablish a relationship with him. And besides that, he’s sure that it’s just a temporary improvement.

But as the story progresses, Felix’s principled commitment to bringing justice to the community and humble attitude wins Bret over. They become close friends, each respecting the other. They are proud to stand side by side as Felix enforces the law and Bret assists him.

I really enjoyed watching as their relationship progresses. So often stories depict relationships where the children are either unrealistically willing to forgive past abuse or they harbor bitterness for petty wrongs. I thought Sheriff at Waterstop showed a good balance – Bret wasn’t bitter. He just didn’t trust his dad, and for good reason. His father had proven himself unworthy of being trusted. But he wasn’t obstinate in his distrust; as his father became more and more respectable, Bret began to give him the respect he had earned. In the end, resolution has been achieved.

The Christianity in Sheriff at Waterstop feels more modern than is likely would have been preached at the times, but it has several good points. For one thing, no one is ever urged to “ask Jesus into their heart”. Instead, they are urged to repent for the sins that they have committed and place trust in Christ’s promise of salvation. Also, instead of just “becoming a Christian” and moving on with life, those who convert actually begin to implement the word of God in their lives. I appreciated this bit from Felix when he was explaining to his wife why he had excepted the position of Sheriff.

“If a person believes in living decent, Nance, he might just have to make a place decent. If Christian folks want to live where there’s law and order, then some of them Christian folks have got to be the law and order. We can’t let other people do all the dangerous work while we set back at ease.” [pgs. 22-23]

Apart from the bad grammar, I agree wholeheartedly! : )

Conclusion. Good. Boys especially will enjoy this story.

Where the Long Grass Blows

Title: Where the Long Grass Blows
Author: Louis L’Amour
Pages:
Level: 14 & up
Star Rating: ★★★

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Western…

The Story.

Bill Canavan has wanted a ranch for several years. But he’s not content to rest with some dingy set of acres. He wants to own the most lush and fertile land in the valley. The scary thing is, he’s got it, deed and all. But the other, more powerful ranchers in the valley don’t know of his claim and are fighting over Canavan’s land. They’re ready to kill each other over it. They’d be willing to kill Canavan over it, too…

But, for now, Canavan is content to sit back and watch the fight without announcing his prior claim. After all, it makes more sense to let his enemies destroy themselves so that he’ll have less of a battle. But he hadn’t counted on one thing. He hadn’t planned on meeting Dixie Venable and he hadn’t planned on falling in love with her. But she’s engaged to Star Levitt, the most powerful, unscrupulous man in the valley.

Does Dixie truly love this scheming man? And will Canavan’s love for Dixie cause him to tip his cards too soon?

Discussion.

The first person Canavan meets when he rides into the valley is Dixie Venable. He immediately evaluates her and declares her “The kind of woman who’s made for a man.” [pg. 6] He forms an immediate attachment to her and is not deterred by the fact that she is engaged to another man. He questions her on the subject and informs her that “Until you tell me you love him [her fiancé], and look me in the eye when you say it, I’ll play my hand the best way I can.” [pg. 88] Their romance is not detailed, frivolous, or inappropriate.

When Canavan has just ridden into the valley, he tells his horse, Rio, that “There’s an old law that only the strong survive.” [pg. 5] He goes on to tell his horse how he plans be the strongest man in the valley.

While sleeping on the mountain, Canavan hears a “low mounting rumble, far down in the rock beneath him – as though the very spirit of the mountain was beneath him in his sleep.” [pg. 50]

When Canavan’s enemies have captured him, he tries to worm his way out by telling his captors that he is the seventh son of a seventh son and can see into the future. He says that one of the men will not live out the day, but he does.

Several gun and fist fights are described. They’re not gory – certainly not sickening – but they do mention blood and cracking sounds…

The word “prehistoric” is used twice to describe geological oddities.

Canavan goes into a bar a few times but never gets tipsy. There are no barmaids.

‘Damn’ is used fourteen times, ‘hell’ five; ‘by the lord Harry’ and ‘durn’ are each used once.

Conclusion. I really enjoyed this novel and would recommend it along with The Ferguson Rifle and The Sackett Brand as the more worthwhile L’Amour novels.

The Sign of the Crooked Arrow

Title: The Sign of the Crooked Arrow
Author: Franklin W. Dixon
Pages: 214
Recommended Ages: 8-12
Star Rating: ★★★

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I purchased The Sign of the Crooked Arrow without realizing that it was a part of the Hardy Boys series. (No, guys, it did not say ‘THE HARDY BOYS’ on the front cover – my copy has a different cover. [:) I was a little disappointed when I discovered the fact, but decided that I would buckle down and read it instead. I was surprised by how pleasant it actually was.

The Story.

A car has been left at Slo Mo’s garage for two months. No one has called to claim it. But someone has tried to steal it. A tie clasp has been found in the car – molded in the shape of a crooked arrow. But what does it all mean? It means a new case for the Hardy boys!

As Frank and Joe dive into the case, they draw connections between the recent rise in crime in Bayport and this crooked arrow, which they are determined is the sign of a gang. When their father further investigates their findings, he is shot and wounded. Shot by an arrow.

Also, their Cousin Ruth’s ranch has been facing hardships and many of her ranch hands are vanishing without a trace. Is there some sort of connection between the two cases?

This is no small plot the Hardys are up against. Will they be able to capture the criminals, or will the gang of the Crooked Arrow triumph in their nefarious designs?

Discussion.

I was actually impressed with the conduct of the Hardy boys. They are upright, hard-working, fearless young men. They take on any problem by its horns and fight for justice. However, because of their very impetuosity, I felt that they sometimes overstepped their bounds and treated adults too familiarly. (teasing them, etc.) Also, although I appreciated the fact that they were being sent out on missions by their father (who is a detective himself), once out of his presence they act as free agents, often giving directions to older men, and providing all of the intelligence that is needed.

This lends itself to the other criticism that I have which is the stereotypical exaggeration of the Hardy boys’ talents. Both boys are expert riders. Frank is an expert mechanic “as a result of having taken so many jalopies apart and put them back together.” (?!?) They both pick up judo like that *snaps fingers* and later take out three hardened cowboys with ease. [:O]

Three more unbelievables:

1)      The Indians in the story speak horribly chopped English.

2)      Joe and Frank assume that it was an Indian who tried to kill their father because he used a bow and arrow. [!!!!!!!]  *horror*

3)      The Hardys genuinely believe that their arrow shooter will be lured into revealing his identity by entering an archery contest for the sake of its fifty dollar prize. (Say Robin Hood, anyone?)

F. Dixon states that Joe was “rather fond of Iola”. He says that as far as Frank was concerned, Callie Shaw was “as nice a girl as any fellow would like to know.” They joke and laugh together, but nothing truly romantic ever happens.

On one page, a chemist comments that “Every race has its own peculiar scent.” [pg. 22] I do not know how true this statement is, nor what its racial / socio-ethical implications are.

On one occasion, not wishing to worry their aunt, the Hardys tell a half-truth. It is not an actual lie, but it is still practicing deception on an authority. Not horrible.

‘Gosh’ is used twelve times, ‘golly’ three, ‘gee’ twice and both ‘Gol hang it’, and ‘dickens’ are used once.

Conclusion. I would assign The Sign of the Crooked Arrow to the realm of filler fiction – not horrible, not wonderful. It has fewer harmful elements than many books out there, but it was also unrealistic. All in all, it will be up to you, the parent to decide how concentrated you want your child’s reading to be.

Note: This is a review of The Sign of the Crooked Arrow, not the entire Hardy Boys Series.

The Further Adventures of Hank the Cowdog

Title: The Further Adventures of Hank Cowdog
Author: John R. Erickson
Pages: 127
Reading Level: 10 & up
Star Rating: Undetermined

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Yep, it’s Hank again….

The Story.

Hank’s the bearer of one intense job. But he bears it nobly. Why, only this morning he rescued the ranch from an evil monster bird with bright shiny feathers that made a terrible roaring noise as it swooped over the ranch. But Hank held his ground and the frightened bird swooped off to terrorize another farm, leaving Hank pretty pleased with himself.

But a few minutes later when Sally May gives Hank’s fried egg to Pete the barncat, Hank is furious. Through the bedevilry of Pete, Hank gets his nose run up against the barb-wired fence and gets it all scratched up. He stares at his injuries, hoping they’ll improve (time is said to do that, you see), but they don’t. Instead of getting better, things get worse, because all that staring at his own nose made Hank catch a severe case of Eye-Crosserosis, don’t you see. And now, Hank can barely see! What’s to be done about this?

Well, Pete the barncat decides to take advantage of Hank’s affliction and afflict him worser. By the connivingest  of strategies, Pete leads Hank out into the middle of the prairie….. and dumps him there. Hank is lost on his own ranch! What a disgrace!

Thankfully, he runs across his old buzzard friends, Wallace and Junior. They tell him of someone they think can heal his Eye-Crosserosis: Madame Moonshine, a queer owl. But the way to her cave is fraught with many dangers – especially to someone with befuddled vision.

Can Hank make it to Madame Moonshine’s cave? Can she heal him? And most importantly, will Hank be able to get out of her cave?

Quotes.

Just in case you didn’t catch it, the roaring monster bird is an airplane. Here is the beginning of Hank and Drover’s encounter with the monster.

“What’s that noise?”

Drover looked up in the trees and rolled his eyes. “I don’t hear any…” And right then he heard the roar. His eyes got as big as saucers and he started to shiver. “What is it, Hank?”

“I don’t know, but we’re fixing to find out. I’ve got a hunch that it’s a silver monster bird.”

I turned my head just for a second, and when I looked back, Drover was gone. At first I thought he might have headed for the machine shed, but then I saw his gunnysack quivering.

“Get out from under there! We’ve got work to do. I’m putting this ranch under Red Alert.”

“But Hank, that thing roars!”

The roar was getting louder all the time. “Come on, son, it’s time for battle stations. If that bird lands, it’s liable to be a fight to the death.”

“But Hank, I . . . my foot hurts and I got a headache.”

I took a corner of his gunnysack in my teeth and jerked it away. And there was Drover, my assistant Head of Ranch Security, quivering like a tub full of raw liver. “Get up and stay behind me. This ain’t drill. This is Red Alert.”

“Okay, Hank, I’ll try but . . . Red Alert’s pretty serious, isn’t it . . . oh, my foot hurts!” [pg. 5]

“I just shook my head. Sometimes Drover acts more like a cat than a cowdog. Makes me wonder . . . oh well.” [pg. 13]

Hank is horrified when he discovers his Eye-Crosserosis.

“Look at me, Drover, and tell me what you see.”

He studied me for a long time, squinted one eye and then the other, looked me up one side and down the other.

“Well, what do you see? Go ahead and say it, just spit it out.”

“A dog.”

“Look deeper. Details.”

He looked deeper. “A cowdog?”

“The face, Drover, study the face.”

He cocked his head. “Oh yeah, I see it now. It looks terrible, Hank.”

“I was afraid of that. It’s pretty obvious, huh?”

“Sure is.”

“Do you think I look disfigured? I mean, I don’t want to go around looking like a loon or a freak or something.”

“I’d say you look kind of disfigured, Hank.”

That was discouraging news. I tried walking around and ran into one of the legs on the gas tanks. “The worst part of it is that it’s messed up my vision. Can’t see worth a rip.”

“Huh. That’s really strange, Hank. I wouldn’t have thought it would do that.”

“Oh, it’s not so strange, when you think about it. What do you reckon I ought to do to cure it?”

“Beats me. Maybe a mud pack would help.”

When a guy can’t see, he’ll try most anything. I followed Drover down to the sewer and he helped me up to the edge of the water. I dug balls of mud with my paws and plastered them over both eyes. Then I laid down to let the healing set it.

Must have laid there for half an hour. “What do you think now, Drover? Have we waited long enough?”

“Well . . . it still looks the same to me. Maybe you better go another hour.”

“Maybe so.” About fifteen minutes later, I began to think about what he’d said. “Wait a minute. What do you mean, it still looks the same?” I heard him snore and wheeze. “Drover, wake up! What do you mean, it still looks the same to you?”

“Huh, what? What do I mean? Well, I guess that means it don’t look any different.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Your nose. It still looks beat-up and scabby to me.”

“My nose! I wasn’t talking about my nose, you little dunce.”

“Oh.”

“How could a scabby nose have anything to do with my vision?”

“I wondered about that.”

I scraped off the mud and opened my eyes. I saw two Drovers staring at me. “It didn’t help. I’m still afflicted.”

“Hey! Your eyes are crossed!”

“Very good, Drover. It only took you . . . what, forty-five minutes to pick that up?”

“More like an hour.”

“That’s just great.” I tried to think through my problem, one step at a time. “Well, this is a fine mess. What am I going to do now?”

“Well . . . if your eyes are crossed, maybe you could uncross ‘em.”

“What a wonderful idea, Drover.”

“Yeah, it just came to me in a flash.”

“I bet that was quite a flash.”

“It was pretty good.”

“Well, here’s another flash. I already thought about that.”

“You did?”

“And I tried it.”

“You did?”

“And it didn’t work.”

“Oh.”

“So do you have other flashes?” [pgs. 26-29]

After Hank is afflicted with Eye-Crosserosis he challenges a Doberman Pinscher to a pitched battle. Here is Hank’s account of the events.

I faced the enemy. I was seeing double, which wasn’t so good since it was hard to judge which one to fight. I picked the one on the left, sucked in my gut, and made a dive for him.

It was the wrong one. I took a ferocious bite out of the blue sky, and while I was in the air, Rufus got me, and I can’t finish the story.

I’m sorry, I hate to leave things hanging but I just can’t tell the rest of it. Maybe Drover will write his memoirs one of these days and you can find out what happened. [pg. 41]

Hank ends his story by getting into a scrape and remarking

Those of us who live on the heights must live with the judgments of small minds. We can only hope that in the next life justice will reign.

It reigns here, but it also hails. [pg. 127]

Cautions.

After Hank comes down with Eye-Crosserosis, Drover discovers that he can act however he wishes towards Hank and the rest of the ranch. In one scene he and Pete the barncat perform a mock play in which they ridicule Hank. In another scene, Drover parades in front of and taunts Hank. I found it a rather interesting scene, because, although fascinated by his new freedom from Hank’s moral restraint, Drover is miserable about the way he is treating Hank. Yet he still does it. And, if I can say this without sounding entirely ridiculous, it’s a striking example of hating the flesh but acceding to it (Romans 7:7-24). That said, Drover’s actions are not a sterling example for the young reader.

Madame Moonshine plays the function of a ‘good’ witch who uses magic to effect ‘good’ ends. She uses a hypnotic formula to cure Hank and is able to control the actions of ants and rattlesnakes with a flick of her wing. As far as witches go she’s harmless enough, but since God is content to condemn them to capital punishment, I cannot evince a partiality for them. She is only present in one scene, but it is an extensive one.

Hank tells several lies to effect escapes and impress his co-workers.

As in The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog, Hank displays an inordinate amount of affection towards Beulah, dreaming about her and kissing her on the cheek.

The words ‘gosh’, ‘heck’, ‘darn’, ‘dadgum’, ‘dang’, ‘son-of-a-gun’, ‘dickens’, and ‘golly’ and used regularly. There is some name-calling.

Conclusion. I, as a young adult, enjoy reading Hank the Cowdog. I find it offers me perspective and relaxation when I’m stressed, and, because of my age, I am able to enjoy the humor and leave the silliness behind. However, I do not believe that young readers will be able to read Hank the Cowdog without being encouraged in silliness and sarcasm. For this reason, I do not recommend Hank the Cowdog for young readers, while reserving the right to enjoy it myself.

Note: The Further Adventures of Hank the Cowdog is the second book in the Hank the Cowdog series. Click here to read my review of The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog.

Shane

Title: Shane
Author: Jack Shaefer
Pages: 119
Recommended Ages: 13 & up
Star Rating: ★★★★

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Although it is considered a ‘classic western’ novel that has been adapted as an Academy Award winning film, I had never heard of Shane before picking it up ‘randomly’ at a recent library sale. Now, after devouring it, I understand how it has attained such popularity. Although it follows a typical western scenario, it is a singular story.

The Story.

It was a clear summer’s day when Shane first rode onto the Starrett’s farm in Wyoming. From the first moment young Bob glimpsed his lean figure and cool intensity, he knew that Shane was a special man. Bob’s father Joe and mother Marian agreed with him, and together they asked Shane to stay on and help with their ranch. He agreed.

The more time the Starretts spend with Shane the more they love him. Although not physically imposing, he radiates a quiet energy which alternately thrills and scares young Bob. Obviously a man with a painful history, Shane settles comfortably into his life with the Starretts but maintains a strict silence in regard to his past life.

But greed is beginning to threaten the peaceful happiness of the Starrett’s lifestyle. Fletcher, a grasping landowner, desires to control the entire valley and tries to scare the small farmers off their lands. Joe and Shane band the men of the valley together in defiance of Fletcher and the pressure slackens off a bit. But only for a brief moment.

Fletcher is determined to gain the valley all for himself and will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. He hires the brutal gunslinger, Stark Wilson, to pick off a few of the ranchers. It is then, for the first time since he rode into their valley, that Shane straps on his polished gun. As tempers and stakes shoot sky high, can Shane protect the family he loves without returning to his violent past? Who will emerge the victor in this battle of wills and bullets?

Praises.

I have only read a half dozen or so books that were as emotionally involving as Shane. It left me with a yearning feeling; an aching desire to rush into the pages and comfort someone. Who? I’m not sure. But somebody needed comforting. Or maybe that was me…..

I loved the warmth and security that oozed from the Starrett farm. The family was happy together. They loved each other. They were bright and cheerful. Bob says of his mother,

Father and I would have painted the house three times over and in rainbow colors to please her. [pg. 6]

Because their family life is so affectionate and thriving, I felt personally involved when Fletcher and his cronies tried to threaten them out of the valley. It’s as though he was trying to destroy my own family, my own happiness, my own life.

I loved this bit of wisdom that Shane passed on to Bob,

“Listen, Bob. A gun is just a tool. No better and no worse than any other tool, a shovel – or an axe or a saddle or a stove or anything. Think of it always that way. A gun is as good – and as bad – as the man who carries it. Remember that.” [pg. 44]

Cautions.

My only real concern about Shane is the relationship between Shane and Bob’s mother, Marian. It was so subtly communicated, relying almost entirely on implications, that I’m still not even a hundred percent sure that it was, as I furiously suspect, illicit. Nothing is ever definitely stated; there is certainly never a physical relationship between the two, but significant phrases and almost equivocal hints all point towards Shane and Marian silently loving each other.

This theme does not infiltrate the book; there were only four scenes that I marked down in the back of the book as ‘Romance’ and as I re-read them I found myself wondering, “Is there a way that I could explain this scene away? Couldn’t this be the result of a brotherly/sisterly affection?” And taken each individually, they could have been. But as a cumulative whole they cannot.

Here is probably the most suggestive passage from the entire book. It occurs immediately after both Shane and Mr. Starrett are wounded in a fight.

Her [Marian’s] voice was climbing and she was looking back and forth and losing control of herself. “Did ever a woman have two such men?” And she turned from them and reached out blindly for a chair and sank into it and dropped her face into her hands and the tears came.

The two men stared at her and then at each other in that adult knowledge beyond my understanding. Shane rose and stepped over by mother. He put a hand gently on her head and I felt again his fingers in my hair and the affection flooding through me. He walked quietly out the door and into the night.

Father drew on his pipe. It was out and absently he lit it. He rose and went to the door and out on the porch. I could see him there dimly in the darkness, gazing across the river.

Gradually mother’s sobs died down. She rasied her head and wiped away the tears.

“Joe.”

He turned and started in and waited then by the door. She stood up. She stretched her hands toward him and he was there and had her in his arms.

“Do you think I don’t know, Marian?”

“But you don’t. Not really. You can’t. Because I don’t know myself.”

Father was staring over her head at the kitchen wall, not seeing anything there. “Don’t fret yourself, Marian. I’m man enough to know a better when his trail meets mine. Whatever happens will be all right.”

“Oh, Joe. . . Joe! Kiss me. Hold me tight and don’t ever let go.” [pg. 80]

It’s that close to being stated – but it isn’t. If Shane and Marion’s love had been overt or explicit I would never even think of publishing a favorable review of Shane. But it was so subtle that I doubt if most readers less mature than I would have noticed it. And here is where my dilemma is. If this book could be slipped into that short time slot when readers are old enough to handle the reading level but still too young to notice the relationship, it would be perfect. But can that be achieved? And is it worth taking that chance, or should Shane be postponed until much later? I don’t know.

There are four fight scenes, each of which take place in a saloon. They are described in detail, but are not disgusting. Here is an example.

He flowed into action so swift you could hardly believe what was happening. He scooped up his half-filled glass from the bar, whipped it and its contents into Morgan’s face, and when Morgan’s hands came up reaching for him, he grasped the wrists and flung himself backwards, dragging Morgan with him. His body rolled to meet the floor and his legs doubled and his feet, catching Morgan just below the belt, sent him flying on and over to fall flat in a grotesque spraddle and slide along the boards in a tangle of chairs and a table. [pg. 71]

‘By Godfrey’, ‘darn’, ‘shucks’ and ‘heck’, are used regularly; ‘great jumping Jehoshaphat’, and ‘my God’ are used once each.

Conclusion. I can’t give a cut-and-dry opinion about this book. You will have to make your own decision based upon the maturity level of your reader and his level of exposure to these things. Shane is worth reading eventually – as an older reader I enjoyed it immensely. Ulitmately, I would suggest that you as a parent read it and make your decision. Purchase a copy here.