Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, November 7, 2016

In Wide-Open Spaces

For centuries, month after month, year after year, they have spent more time in a saddle on horseback than most other individuals.  Their dedication to a particular way of life is disputed by few if any.  They watch over and herd on ranches and the trail with their constant companions, cattle.  They have been the subject of literature, movies, documentaries and television shows.

All of us have definitions for the word cowboy.  We have places we put them geographically and historically.  Real Cowboys (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 4, 2016) written by Kate Hoefler with illustrations by Jonathan Bean lifts them up in an artistic tribute with words and images.

Real cowboys are quiet in the morning, careful not to wake the people who live in little houses in the hollow, and up the mountains, and at the edge of fields in the distance.

They focus on those under their care; putting them first.  They do whatever needs to be done to sooth and heal. In order to do their jobs well, cowboys take care of themselves by wearing protective clothing and remaining calm regardless of opportunities and challenges inviting the opposite.

Cowboys are part of a team, human and canine, working toward a common goal.  When nature or another event frightens the herd and a stampede is inevitable, cowboys' hearts are heavy.  The losses are deeply felt.

As students and mentors of the lands they roam, they have learned to protect that which provides for them. Cowboys cross the lines of gender and ethnicity.  You make think their days with cattle, dogs, horses and other cowboys limit their creativity and capacity for imagining but cowboys, like life, are full of surprises.

There is reverence in the words written by debut author Kate Hoefler.  Each portion addresses those known and unknown attributes each cowboy possesses.  Hoefler looks at the cowboy as a whole person beginning each virtue repeatedly with

Real cowboys are...

She follows with illuminative phrases reminding us how wonderful the use of language can be when finding beauty in everyday things.  Here is a passage.

At night, they sing lullabies over the calls of coyotes---songs that keep cows on a prairie deep in sleep.

From left edge to right edge the first image readers see on the opened, matching dust jacket and book case is a cowboy off his horse and (The horse is grazing and shown beneath a full moon to the left of the spine) tending to a stray calf.  The use of light on the earth tone colors in the nighttime makes for a stunning introductory illustration. This picture and the others within the body of the book are rendered with

hand-stenciled shapes and textures layered with the computer and printed in four Pantone colors.

In a conversation with Jonathan Bean yesterday I inquired:

This style seems similar to Bad Bye, Good Bye as far as the layering but is the stenciling new?  How long did it take you to cut out the stencils?

I also used stencils in BAD BYE, except that in BB the stencils were mostly tape affixed to paper and filled with ink washes.  That's why you noticed a similarity.  With RC most of the stencils were not affixed to paper and were made from plastic vellum, so I could use them over and over, which I did. :)  I used sponges, rollers, potatoes, and other things with these stencils.  Most of the stencils didn't take too long to cut out, but I was tired of Xacto knife work by the end!

A bright golden yellow covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page Bean gives us an inside view of a cowboy at rest.  A star-studded sky is seen in the window.  A clock above his bed on a shelf reads 3:16.  Nails in the bare wooden walls hold personal possessions, his clothing and gear.  The verso and first page are done in shades of red as the dawn brightens peaks in the distance.  Another cowboy starts his day shaving outside, using a hand-held mirror.

The remaining two-page visuals in this title, in shades of brown, yellow, blue, red (slightly salmon), are breathtaking combinations of these colors depending on the time of day, the event and the emotion being conveyed in the text.  Within any selected illustration Bean presents multiple perspectives first drawing our eyes close to a dominant element and then asking us to view smaller details.  If you study the faces of his cowboys and even those of the animals, there is an array of realistic expressions.  We also move from day to night and night to day as our eyes cross the gutter.  We are brought full circle on the final single page through the choice of the same hues as in the beginning although they are much lighter and the lines are more delicate.

One of my favorite illustrations is the left portion of a hilly vista.  It is night with a three-quarter moon hanging above the hills at the top of the page.  A lone cowboy sits on his horse with a herd spread below him.  On the left side in the middle of the image, even farther down from the hilltop, more of the herd gathers around a river.  In the lower, right hand corner a chuck wagon is placed near a tree.  One cowboy sits by a fire as two others sleep.  Empty bedrolls await their occupants.  Horses are drinking from the river.  At the top of another hill in the lower, left-hand corner a coyote watches.  This scene is alive.

Real Cowboys written by Kate Hoefler with illustrations by Jonathan Bean is a unique and beautiful presentation of contemporary cowboys.  The narrative and images replicate the rhythm of the life these individuals live.  The effect is remarkable.

To learn more about Jonathan Bean and his other work please visit his website by following the link attached to his name.  Jonathan does have a blog which will give you insights into his earlier work.  Jonathan Bean and his work on this title are highlighted at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Daniels's blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.  Don't miss this post.  It is a fascinating look at the process.  Jonathan is also interviewed at HorseChannel.com and Miss Marple's Musings.

For more information on cowboys and their history information can be found at History.com, National Geographic, PBS.org and The Library of Congress.


  1. I can't wait to read this book.

    1. I believe you will really enjoy it Annette. It's completely in sync with the lifestyle and outdoor surroundings.

  2. Putting this on my to-read list!! Thanks, Margie!