cover image THE TOUGHEST COWBOY: Or How the Wild West Was Tamed

THE TOUGHEST COWBOY: Or How the Wild West Was Tamed

John Frank, , illus. by Zachary Pullen. . S&S, $16.95 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-689-83461-5

With a mixture of tall-tale exaggeration and the plot of a silly campfire yarn, this tongue-in-cheek story about a quartet of tough cowboys may appeal more to grown-ups than to the picture-book crowd. Frank (The Tomb of the Boy King ) peoples the story with adult characters and strikes a hyperbolic tone (the hero, Grizz, "drank a quart of Tabasco sauce a day, flossed his teeth with barbed wire, and kept a rattlesnake in his bedroll to cool his feet at night"). Unfortunately, the book's story line seems contrived to deliver the theme—you can teach an old cowpoke new tricks. When Grizz brings Foofy home, the meticulously groomed poodle changes the lives of all four cowboys as the canine wins over the skeptical fellows and they develop new skills in caring for her. While dog lovers may understand the cowhands' change of heart, the text never charts the characters' development enough to pave the way for their metamorphosis. It's first-time illustrator Pullen's oil paintings, featuring the characters' close-up animated faces and reflecting a broad humor, that chronicle the men's transformation. The large-sized heads of the characters seem to combine the jowly faces of grizzled B-movie character actors with the kind of caricatures found in political cartoons. Through the artist's portraits, readers can almost watch the men's hard edges soften in the company of their new pet. Ages 6-8. (Aug.)