Monday, March 9, 2015

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Tales from Deckawoo Drive #1) by Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick Press

Rating: 4 stars

Yippie-i-oh! We've lassoed an early reader for you!

(Define "early reader?" A book that has more pages than an easy reader, five to ten short chapters, illustrations to keep kids interested and give them clues about the text, appropriate language and content for young readers, and serves as a bridge between easy readers and middle grade novels. Generally, the age range is 5 to 8.)

Leroy Ninker is a little man with big dreams of being a cowboy. He has a lasso and boots and cowboy hat, but he lacks a horse. Which is kind of important. So he goes and finds a horse, and that horse is Maybelline. She is not the gallant steed named "Tornado" he imagined; rather, she's a big ol' nag with only four teeth. But it is love at first sight for Leroy Ninker.

Maybelline is funny in different ways than Leroy is funny--she requires certain care that made Ben laugh out loud. For example, to get Maybelline to run, Leroy must compliment her. He must whisper sweet nothings into her ear. "You are the sweetest, most beautiful horse I have ever had the fortune to lay eyes on," he says to her. And off she goes!

Despite Leroy Ninker's goal of becoming a cowboy, and despite the procurement of one fine steed, he doesn't know how to take care of a horse. But he's got such a big heart and doesn't let his cluelessness get in the way. He tries his very best! I love the image of little Leroy trying to get oversized Maybelline into his apartment, and the fact that he cooks her spaghetti for dinner. 

The climax of the book comes when Leroy Ninker doesn't follow the instructions he was given for Maybelline, and she runs away because of an oversight (of his). He goes to "make it right" and is determined to find her. Which he does--I love how in these early readers and middle grade, too, that you can depend on a happy ending. In fact, the happy ending in this book involves Mercy Watson, the pig in Kate DiCamillo's other series, and I realize that Leroy Ninker is another resident on Deckawoo Drive and this book is a spin-off from the successful and great, you-should-read-it-too Mercy Watson series.

This book is proof that Kate Dicamillo still has her finger firmly on the pulse of what kids think is funny. And she has a knack for producing wonderful tales. Leroy Ninker, a story of a simple man fulfilling his dream, is another one of her great stories. I can't forget to mention that the fantastic Chris Van Dusen illustrates this book. (He writes and illustrates picture books--they are THE BEST!) He fills most of the pages with the bright-eyed, needle-nosed cowboy and a goofy but sweet-looking horse. They are quite the pair. They're in love, but I'm pretty sure most readers will fall in love with them.

There you go. An early reader book to give your early reader kid as they ride off into the sunset.


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