Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: For the Love of Hank the Cowdog!

It is hard to imagine that some of you may not know of the Hank the Cowdog series by John R. Erickson, but it was my thrill and privilege to open up a package from Maverick Books, recently, and find I was faced with reviewing a bunch of Hank the Cowdog items! This was a highly "oohed and ahhhed" package as it contained a CD of songs and book excerpts, a board game and a book (quickly claimed by my sixth grade daughter).

We have listened to and loved Hank for years. Especially my son, who is mildly autistic; he will listen to hours and hours of the adventures this goofy dog, Hank ("Head of Ranch Security"), with all of his friends. However, his life and times are equally entertaining to adults. I have a friend whose parents took the grandkids to Ireland for a special vacation. The grandkids brought some Hank the Cowdog CD's along for the rental car ride. When the gang returned from their vacation, my friend asked her father what he thought of Ireland. "Oh, Ireland was great," he said, "but I really loved listening to Hank the Cowdog!"

The way Hank sees life is unique but not unlike the way all of us can bumble through things at times. All of the colorful characters that hang out on the ranch add to the fun and mishaps. Mr. Erickson has brought to life the ranchers, the dogs, the barn cat and even the vultures and coyotes in such a way that you become like a kid at a carnival, taking it all in and having a blast as it unfolds.

Mr. Erickson has written over 50 Hank the Cowdog books. The chapter books are aimed at a fifth or sixth grade reader but are good clean fun to read to younger children and equally enjoyed by older kids too. The ultimate way, in my opinion, to get the full "Hank" experience is to listen to the books on tape or CD. Mr. Erickson personally brings the story to life by becoming all of the characters as he reads through the adventure. Oh yes, don't forget the silly songs that are often spontaneously sung! Those are hilarious too. The tapes and Cd's have sound effects and music to add to the feel of the story as well. Once you listen to the books being read by Mr. Erickson, you will forever hear those voices yourself as you read the books. It is a strange but amazing fact, that this happens!

At our local homeschool book fair, we had the privlege of John R. Erickson coming to speak and hosting a booth of books and other goodies for all of us adults--I mean, all of the children-- to have a bit of an O.D. experience with Hank. My 10 year old was one of a few greeters at the door when Mr. Erickson walked in and said hello, telling them they were doing a great job.
My daughter turned to her fellow worker and said, "That guy sounded just like Hank the Cowdog!" It wasn't until later that day she discovered it really was Hank (well, sort of!). Mr. Erickson was kind, humble and his family is also involved in homeschooling. It was great to meet the creative force behind the books!

The CD that we received was called "Tales and Tunes from Hank the Cowdog". It was a smorgasbord of book excerpts and included 9 songs as well. We listened to it twice that day. And I know I haven't heard the last of it!

Something else my kids enjoyed was the Hank game "Tornado". The playing pieces have Hank, his buddy Drover, and Junior the buzzard that move around the board in "the wildest race and chase game ever!" Well, that is what the box claims. However, it is actually just a revamped version of "Trouble", which everyone likely has played at some point. Still, my kids snatched it up and gave it a few rounds. It is the travel version of the game, small and portable. I know we will bring it with us when we have a drive to make. The game included a free 30 minute tape from the book "The Case of the Swirling Killer Tornado" so we have been driving around listening to Drover sing about tornado safety (not intended to be anything highly instructional! It came to him in a dream...).

Finally, the book my daughter is reading is "The Case of the One-Eyed Killer Stud Horse." This is book number 8 of the series and finds Hank having a bad day (sick on poisoned bacon grease), and having to sit through being primped and prettied up by some visiting female relatives. Though initially appalled by the thought of being dolled up, he finds all that stroking and brushing to be rather euphoric. Then when a one-eyed horse breaks lose and starts charging at the "beauticians", Hank is determined to come to the rescue!

Ultimately, you can't go wrong with the Hank the Cowdog series. There's always a lot of chaos and fun to be had with lessons learned along the way. If you go to Mr. Erickson's website,
www.hankthecowdog.com you can find other great products like T-shirts, stuffed animals and a newsletter to enjoy several times a year. Hanks just a great, lovable character, flaws and all, that the family can enjoy for years to come.

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At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.