Review x 2: The Trouble With Magic and Hank the Cowdog

Oct 22, 2014

The boys and I recently finished a couple of books. They weren't standout stories by any means, but I wanted to write about them anyway.

1. The Trouble With Magic by Ruth Chew
Erica at What Do We Do All Day recently posted a list of 12+ Books for Kids Not Ready for Harry Potter. She included Ruth Chew's books on the list, and they looked like something my kids would like, so I checked out The Trouble with Magic. On further investigation, I realized that I'd actually read several of her books when I was a kid (Summer Magic and The Witch at the Window among them). Many of them have recently been re-released with new covers, which is why I didn't recognize them right off.

This particular story is about two siblings (Barbara and Rick) whose parents are conveniently away the same weekend they accidentally release a wizard from a bottle (yes, a wizard--not a genie). The wizard (named Harrison Peabody) uses his umbrella to perform magic, which means he can only do it when it's raining. Needless to say, this results in a lot of trouble because the weather can be a little unpredictable.

Personally, I didn't love this book. For one thing, Harrison Peabody creeped me out--not because he was actually creepy but because, fantasy or not, I didn't like it that two children were being asked to hide and care for an adult.

For another, the story had no depth. The children met the wizard, had a few mishaps with magic, fixed what they could, and then Harry went off to traumatize other children left. As far as chapter books go, it is on the young end, which might be why it felt a little bland, but I've read enough books at that level to know that it's not impossible to write a good story for the nine and under crowd. So yeah, a little disappointing.

That said, my kids liked it quite a bit (especially the parts with George, the sea monster), and I didn't hate it so much that I wouldn't read another one by Ruth Chew. (And I definitely didn't hate it so much that I won't urge my kids to read the rest of her books on their own.)

2. The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog by John R. Erickson
I have this distinct memory of myself as an eight-year-old, wrapped up in my pink quillow (that's a quilt that can turn into a pillow, for those of you who were never privileged to own one), sitting on top of the heater vent in the little corner created between the couch and the loveseat, (a habit I acquired young) and reading, Hank the Cowdog. It's a sweet, happy memory--one that I longed to recreate for my kids.

And so I checked out Hank the Cowdog.

. . . I should have stuck with pink quillows and heater vents and left Hank out of it.

In short, Hank is a cowdog and the Head of Ranch Security. One morning, he wakes up to find there's been a murder overnight: a chicken is dead, and he's determined to find out who did it. 

Why didn't I like it? Let me count the ways:
  1. Hank is rude. ("Idiot," "Stupid," and "Dumb" are among his favorite insults.)
  2. Hank has a potty mouth. (I talked about how much I dislike this type of talking in this review. There was a lot of editing on my end, yes there was.)
  3. It is violent. (There is an epic fight at the end, and I was disturbed by how much they said, "I'm going to kill you" and "You're going to die" and talked about tearing out each other's throats. I'm grateful it didn't give my children nightmares.)
  4. They get drunk and engage in other obnoxious and disreputable habits. All the characters are all-around, horrible role models. 
  5. When it wasn't any of the above, it was super cheesy with lots of slap-stick humor and idioms that went right over my kids' heads.
So you're probably wondering why I read the whole thing.

Because my kids loved it. So embarrassing to admit, but it's true. I begged them to let me stop reading it, but they were so excited to find out what happened. In between readings, they talked about it: "Remember when Hank and Drover were teasing Bruno, and his owner came out of the store, and they laid down and pretended they were asleep? Wasn't that so funny?" And the night we finished it, Aaron said to me, "Wasn't that such a good book?" I was completely honest and told him I didn't like it at all, but I was glad he enjoyed it.

The only thing I liked about the book (and it's really taking a lot of effort on my part to come up with anything) was the voice I used for Missy the coyote. I really nailed it, if I do say so myself.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh on poor Hank? Which books have you muscled your way through because your kids liked them?


  1. I didn't ever read Hank as a kid, but I tried picking it up back in my librarian days, to understand the appeal. Well, I'm with you. I didn't understand the appeal, and had a hard time devoting so much shelf space to the series! By the way, I do quite a bit of editing as I read aloud, too. Mama's prerogative!
    We're half-way through "Bless This Mouse" by Lois Lowry, and I'm more than ready to be done. It's had a few good moments, but it has been pretty slow going so far, with lots of personality clashes but very little action. I think most of it is going over my kids' heads. I slipped it back onto our "library books" shelf. I'm hoping their desire to finish it will just quietly fade away until we take it back. We loved "Tumtum and Nutmeg" so much, I was hoping this would be another great mouse story. eh...not so much.

  2. Do you have other books you would recommend for similar reading levels? My friend is looking for recommendations on the same level as hank the cowdog.

    1. Yes! Try this list: Also, Max has recently been enjoying Encyclopedia Brown and Marvin Redpost.

    2. Oh, and Captain Awesome, too. Or any of Dick King-Smith's books (he wrote Babe, the Gallant Pig but many other less well-known animal stories as well).


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