cover image THE DIRTY COWBOY


Amy Timberlake, , illus. by Adam Rex. . FSG, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-374-31791-1

Maybe it was the 32 fleas in his hair or the tumbleweed in his chaps, "but whatever his reason, on that fateful day, the cowboy picked a doodlebug out of his right eyebrow and said, 'This ol' boy needs a bath.' " His decision leads to hilarious trials and tribulations in this outstanding debut for both author and illustrator. Timberlake's keen comic timing and abundant western witticisms fit hand in glove with Rex's farcical golden- and copper-toned illustrations, which call to mind the tall-tale humor of Andrew Glass. The energetic compositions vary from spread to spread, including time-lapse cartoon-like panels, such inventive touches as close-up shots of individually numbered fleas, and borders that simulate rope or rustic wood, displaying native flora and fauna. The cowboy bears the goofy countenance of a befuddled Alfred E. Neuman. Best of all is the absurdly fortuitous camouflage of private parts: birds fly by, a rabbit stirs up a dust cloud at just the right moment and so on. After a good scrub in a New Mexico river, the cowboy finds his faithful dog (told to guard his clothes) growling at this clean-smelling stranger ("Where was that sweaty, wild boar–like smell that clung to the cowboy like a second pair of clothes?"). Only after the cowboy is sufficiently soiled by the ensuing tussle does the dog recognize him and release what remains of the duds. Transcending the cowboy-tale genre, this raucous romp should tickle bath-averse children everywhere. Ages 4-8. (Aug.)