Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we dig deep into the things that are wobblin’ all your jaws, and recommend some great books to spur further discussion.
Giddy-up, pardners! The Calgary Stampede opens July 8 with a rip-roarin’ Stampede Parade (led by none other than Dances with Wolves and Yellowstone star Kevin Costner), and is followed by over a week of rodeos, powwows, and country-western music. It’s an annual celebration of all things Western, and so we thought we’d put a bee in your bonnet to read up on the subject. We’ve got Westerns, we’ve got books about cowboys, cowgirls, broncs, and colts.
So, don’t be a bad egg or a yellow belly. Take some of our recommendations below of stories that are in apple pie order. Save a horse, read a cowboy!
Even the toughest cowpoke needs their shut-eye. So, grab a bedroll, a lammy, and a copy of Good Night, Cowboys by Adam Gamble, Mark Jasper, and Joe Veno. Take in some horses, steer-roping, lassos, cowboy chow, ghost towns, cattle drives, square dancing, and more as you drift off to sleep.
Before he was known for “Montero” and “Industry Baby,” Lil Nas X was the man behind hit country-western single “Old Town Road.” He is also the writer of C Is for Country, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III, an alphabet book that equally celebrates the cowboy lifestyle (“B is for boots”) and being fabulous (“F is for feathers. And fringe. And fake fur.”).
In 2022, for the first time in its 110-year history, the Calgary Stampede will host a competitive powwow, as dancers from across North America will show off their talents – all thanks to one couple! Before you check it out, read Traci Sorell and Madelyn Goodnight’s Powwow Day, as River risks missing her powwow due to illness.
You can’t have the Stampede without horses, and author Kelly Cooper is an author who has a way with child-horse friendships. If a Horse Had Words, illustrated by Lucy Eldridge, is a story about the friendship between a boy and a horse, following their relationship from the day the horse is born, to when she is sent to auction, to the day she and the boy are reunited at a rodeo where she has become a bronc and he a cowboy. And in Midnight and Moon, illustrated by Daniel Miyares, a girl who doesn’t fit in befriends a blind horse who also struggles to find his place.
Cooper’s work is poetic, but The Horse’s Haiku by Michael J. Rose and Stan Fellows is literal poetry: it’s a series of haiku celebrating the beauty of horses whether they’re peacefully grazing or running full-tilt. (Tragically, no haiku devoted to a mustang making a cowboy chew gravel.)
Little Pinto and the Wild Horses of Mustang Canyon by Jonathan London and Daniel San Souci follows a young horse travelling with his family of rare wild mustangs for the first time. Can Little Pinto keep up with the band of horses?
And yes, the Stampede even has the dangerous and sometimes-controversial sport of bull riding. While those bulls may be angry, their rage pales to that seen in Petal the Angry Cow by Maureen Fergus and Olga Demidova. Petal is a thoughtful cow with a VERY big temper, and young readers will learn a few things as she attempts to manage her frustrations in this very funny book (which features absolutely no rodeo clowns).
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
Hello, Horse by Vivian French and Catherine Rayner is an introduction to horse-riding – a combination of fiction and facts about horses . A boy is introduced to horses by his friend Catherine, who teaches him how to talk to a horse quietly, how to feed her carrots, how to lead her across a field. But is he really ready to climb up on the horse’s back and take a ride?
And Mean Girls meets Black Beauty in Horse Girl by Carrie Seim, a funny middle-grade novel about the awkward Wills who attempts to enter the stuck-up #HorseGirl world of the prestigious Oakwood Riding Academy.
Concrete Cowboy is maybe best known as the movie in which overly attractive actor Idris Elba plays a cowboy. But first it was the book Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri and illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson, in which a teen named Cole moves in with the dad he never knew and learns about the Cowboy Way and justice from his fellow Black urban riders of Philly. There’s also a sequel, Polo Cowboy, in which Cole starts working as a stable hand for the polo team at the very white George Washington Military Academy, and tries his hand at the sport.
Samantha is a Chinese girl in Missouri, 1849. Annamae has escaped slavery. The two meet at a crime scene they’re implicated in, and flee for the West, along the Oregon Trail in Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky. And not unlike the computer game, the Trail is full of dangers, so the two disguise themselves as boys . . . until Samantha starts to fall in love with a cowboy. Under a Painted Sky is an Old West tale of love and friendship.
The setting isn’t the Old West in The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan Stroud – it’s a future England. But the book has bank robberies, shoot-outs, and renegades on the run, so we’re calling it a Future British take on the Western. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a rollicking series opener with varmints readers root for.
And The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts is a true story about the lengths any cowboy would go to save a horse – but it takes place in World War II. A small American troop crosses enemy lines to save some of the world’s most treasured horses, kidnapped by Hitler and hidden in a secret Czechoslovakian breeding farm. It’s like The Horse Whisperer meets Saving Private Ryan.