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Book Review: Tiger’s New Cowboy Boots by Irene Morck, Illustrated by Georgia Graham

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Year after year, Tyler makes the trip to his Uncle Roy’s ranch to move 400 head of cattle to their summer pasture. This year however, he has a pair of real cowboy boots, bought on sale, “soft as a pony’s nose”, and smelling sweetly of new leather. This year the only city kid on the cattle drive will be considered a real cowboy by the cattle hands who call him “Tiger”, and especially by his cousin Jessica.

Much to Tyler’s chagrin, it’s not long before Tiger’s New Cowboy Boots take a beating. Starting with spilled coffee on the way to the ranch, branch lashings, manure, mustard, water, and a host of other encounters that are all part of driving cattle. As young readers follow Tyler through his first cattle drive with real boots, it soon becomes clear that all of the challenges, failures, and victories that he experiences combine to create an informal ranch-style rite of passage that finds him transformed at last into a real cowboy.

Irene Morck’s prose is vivacious and nothing less than infectious. She builds Tyler’s excitement at helping on the Albertan ranch into the text, and draws our entire family into her story each time. As the characters shout out, “Ee-YAAW! Ee-YAAAW! Ee-YAAAW!” our family is transformed into a pack of orphaned calf wranglers as we gallop throughout the house. Sometimes I forget and pick up Tiger’s New Cowboy Boots as a pre-nap read because my children love it so much. On those days not much napping gets done.

Albertan artist Georgia Graham captures the landscape and cattle of her native province in muted, realistic chalk pastel illustrations. The skill with which she portrays the familiar environs of the Alberta foothills is evident in my grandmother’s exclamation as she glanced through the book, “This looks like it could be Alberta!” Indeed, Graham’s in-laws and their Misty Valley Ranch served as the inspiration for this work; in addition one of her ranch-dwelling relatives served as the model for Tyler.

The action on each page spills out of each main illustration and into the surrounding white spaces. A spill of cowboy boots across the bottom of one page, the hind leg of an orphaned calf disappearing off the page in another; the escape of characters from the formal bounds of each work of art adds to the sense of excitement throughout. At first glance the naturalistic palette utilized in this work belies the wholesome exuberance of hard-work and animal husbandry throughout. I was surprised by how much my children and I have come to love this story.

Tiger’s New Cowboy Boots is now officially a new family favourite. Not only does it explore a way of life that is becoming increasingly rare, but it never fails to capture the imaginations of my children. In all fairness, I must warn you – it won’t be long before the young ones in your home start keeping their eyes peeled for cowboy boot sales so that they too can have a pair of boots, just like Tiger’s.

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About Jennifer Bogart