Sunday, August 30, 2009

TOS Review: Maverick Books

My kids are swimming upstream in the "normal sense of humor" department. When you grow up in a house with parents that sing a toned-down version of the song "Jackson" to one another as they fry up your Saturday morning breakfast, you're just going to turn out a little odd. Mr. Blandings and I ... well, we're goofy. We say really strange things--and then we laugh hysterically for a very, very long time.

And this doesn't even touch on our habit of quoting movies out of the blue. Spaceballs? Big Trouble in Little China? Raising Arizona?

They've gone to plaid!
Well, you just tell them the check is in the mail.

Two hours a day, either educational or football, so you don't ruin your appreciation of the finer things.

HAHAHAHAHA! What? You're not laughing??!

With this highly developed sense of hilarity being a general trait in our household, a few problems have arisen. Namely: children's books. Most of them--as you may have noticed--are just not funny.

They are silly, they are slightly amusing but no, they are not funny. And for a parent who likes to both read aloud and laugh aloud at the same time, they can be downright torturous.

Thank goodness for Hank.

We discovered the Hank the Cowdog series from Maverick Books a few years back. To be honest, I had heard them recommended several times and had even grabbed one from the shelf of our local library a time or two. While I liked the storyline (lighthearted mysteries) and the characters (overbearing cowdog with delusions of grandeur, daffy sidekick with a penchant for disappearing at prime moments, etc.) the language gave me pause. Quite regularly, in the midst of tense moments, the main character (that would be Hank) berates his fellow ranch residents with words that are strictly verboten in the Blandings household. (Idiot. Dummy. Moron. You get the picture.) At a certain phase in the development of our family, I knew that introducing a dog who spewed what we consider "bad words" was just not a good idea. So we passed.

Then, around the time Jo was 9, I realized that we were tossing the baby out with the bathwater. Good adventure stories that draw in both boys and girls are hard enough to find without scribbling a line in the sand over a couple of insults. We got a couple of Hank books for read-alouds, and simply edited out the naughty words. And you know what? They were a huge, massive, overwhelming hit.

A bumbling, ego-maniac dog galloping his way over everyone else in a quest to do the right thing. Hilarious caricatures of cowboys and ranch owners who can't seem to understand anything that the dog tries to do. And a rotating band of lesser characters who botch language, puff themselves up, pull tricks and are otherwise insane. Beautiful!

Mr. Blandings especially enjoyed reading the Hank books to the kids. His voices for the characters bordered between Texas drawl and Georgia syrup, and man, were they funny. Even without the bad words, this was some family time well spent around a bowl of popcorn and a gas fireplace. We laughed, and we giggled, and we got goofy with one another in the best of ways.

We have since graduated to audiobook versions of Hank's tales, which never fail to turn even a long ride into a giggle-fest. Yes, Hank is rude in these, but we've never had any problems with a child repeating an off-color (to us) word. I suppose that if I had a child prone to that kind of behavior, I'd be reluctant to indulge in the cds. Even though author John Erickson's narration and singing (yes, there are songs!) are priceless, I'd be willing to miss out if it meant going back to editing and still being able to enjoy the stories.

The magic of Hank stories, for us, is that they truly captivate all ages. Logan, at 7 adores listening to them; so does Mr. Blandings. To find something that pulls everyone in--something that makes a trek cross-state seem like a holiday in and of itself--is rare and delightful.

Being something of a sensation, Hank has expanded beyond mere print and audio. In addition to his website (complete with games), he has merchandise. T-shirts, playing cards, a backpack and even a travel-sized board game. I can almost hear Pete, Hank's nemesis, purring, "Why, Hankie! You're a star!"

The board game--based on one of the books--is a tornado-themed romp similar to SORRY! It's called ... get ready for it ... TORNADO. Since my family is highly competitive with the game SORRY!, I was a little nervous to let them play TORNADO. And sure enough, it got cut throat. The plastic playing pieces are in the shape of Hank, Drover (his sidekick) and Junior (a buzzard). A few spins caused absolute mayhem as Logan bumped Atticus back to the starting point, Jo zoomed ahead of everyone else and I tried to decide how to NOT knock someone else off the board. It's a great game, don't get me wrong--but I recommend playing it when a) you've got a big chunk of time on your hands and b) you've got plenty of time to help someone understand that it's not personal ... it's just a game.

Hank is one of our family's favorite characters. His off-beat approach and serious silliness melt right in around here. If you're looking for a series that's got a few rough edges, a smidge of drama and some personalities that will brighten your day, check out his books.

No comments: