Charlie the Ranch Dog was written by Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman, a self-declared desperate housewife and mother of four, who lives on a working ranch). Charlie the Ranch Dog is told from the perspective of hard-working, dangly-eared ranch dog Charlie. Charlie pretty much spends the whole book telling the reader about his superiority over the younger, non-dangly-eared ranch dog Suzie. The illustrations (and reading between the lines of Charlie's tale), however, make it clear to the reader that Suzie is the real work horse. Charlie tends to spend a lot of time napping. But he does have a chance at the end to save the day. Or at least to save the vegetable patch.
The text reads like this:
"The next thing I have to do is chase Daisy the cow out of the yard.
Daisy knows she's not supposed to be in the yard. Some cows never listen.
Well ... I guess I'll let Suzie go ahead and do it this time.
I like to give her a chance to shine every now and then. That's the kind of dog I am."
The pictures make it clear that Charlie never leaves the house, while Suzie is on the job, chasing Daisy out of the yard. And similarly with chasing away squirrels, helping Mama in the vegetable garden, rounding up cattle, and so on. Charlie, on more than one occasion, dozes off, to awaken later with a "Huh? What'd I miss? Oh, I must have accidentally closed my eyes for a few seconds."
Charlie the Ranch Dog is a series of day-to-day ranch encounters, linked by the running joke of Charlie's laziness vs. Suzie's industry. One has a sense of Charlie as being an old, much-loved dog resting on his laurels, while the new kid pays her dues. There's not a lot of advanced vocabulary or wordplay in this book - it's pretty much straight-up narrative from a ranch dog's perspective. But I think that kids will find it entertaining (especially kids who are dog fans, or interested in life on a farm). The details about ranch life are clearly authentic (fixing fences and rounding up cattle). Drummond also adds a recipe for lasagna at the end of the book, a nice, unusual touch.
Diane deGroat's vivid illustrations add warmth and humor, bringing the droopy-eyed Charlie and energetic Suzie to life. A tiny chipmunk who appears in all of the pictures, following Charlie around, is an entertaining touch (shades of the mouse in Goodnight Gorilla, but even more quirky). The chipmunk even sleeps curled up with Charlie, scampering away as the ranch dog wakes up. [You can also see DeGroat's work in my review of Dogs Don't Brush Their Teeth. She clearly enjoys dogs.]
While there may not be enough story in Charlie the Ranch Dog to stand up to repeat readings (I just read Anita Silvey's article about recent picture books and lack of story), it's a very likeable picture book. Charlie's laziness is sure to delight young dog fans, and DeGroat's illustrations will particularly make them smile. It's also a nice change to see a picture book set in the country, on a working ranch. There seem to be a lot of suburban and urban books, and some set on generic, unrealistic farms, but this one sneaks in a real world backdrop. All in all, it's a fun book!
Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: April 26, 2011
Source of Book: Library copy
Nominated for 2011 Cybils in Fiction Picture Books by: Christie
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