Diane Prather: A hilarious tall tale
September 2, 2014
Can you imagine growing a watermelon so big that the hollow rind can be used as a hay shed or growing tomatoes so big that you have to climb a ladder to saw them off the vines? That's how big the garden produce grows on the ranch at By-Golly Gully, Texas.
By-Golly Gully, Texas, is the setting for this week's picture book for kids. "Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch" is a tall tale, written by Anne Isaacs and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. The book is intended for ages 5 to 9, but there is quite a lot of reading so younger children will need to have it read to them.
The storyline begins July 4, 1870, at Greater Bore, England, when Tulip Jones learns that she has inherited $35 million and a ranch in Texas. So, a hoe in one hand and a potted plant in the other, Tulip Jones boards a ship for America. With her are three servants — Linsey, Woolsey and Calico — who will be ranch hands.
The women bring along two trunks full of tea, a teapot and 12 pet tortoises, named for the months of the year. The tortoises are small enough to fit into three cages (but just wait and see what happens).
Boy, is it hot in Texas! In fact, it's the hottest summer that Texas has ever known. It's so hot that the chickens lay hard-boiled eggs. To keep cool, the chickens wear parasols that are tied under their chins, and the lizards have to walk by using stilts so their feet don't burn. The longhorn cows are so hot that their tongues are hanging out.
But the heat doesn't seem to bother Tulip Jones. She rolls up her sleeves and orders her ranch hands to grab their hoes. They're going to plant a garden. She seems to know what she's doing, too, because the vegetables grow fast and big. That goes for what doesn't grow in the garden, too. The tortoises thrive. In a month's time, even December, the smallest tortoise, is 6 feet from his tail to his nose. They can gallop faster than horses, too, so Tulip Jones orders reins and saddles so the women can ride the tortoises.
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And so life is good at By-Golly Ranch, that is until word gets around that a widow lady has inherited a bunch of money. That's when the suitors start showing up, each one hoping to marry the Widow Jones. There are so many suitors that the line is a mile down the road, clear into the next town.
You will have to see the pictures of these men to appreciate the awesome — and quite humorous — illustrations done by Kevin Hawkes. Each man is quite unique as is the animal that he rides. Although most of the animals are horses, one man is astride a camel, another on what appears to be a polar bear and still another on some kind of bird. The men's hats are "decorated" with lariat ropes, bullet holes, barbed wire, a sword (stuck through the hat) and a lot more.
Imagine having 1,000 men show up each day for tea! Widow Jones has to hire Charlie Doughpuncher, a baker, to make all of the tea cakes, cookies, muffins and other goodies to feed all of the suitors.
Then Sheriff Arroyo and his brother Spit arrive. They look pretty wicked, indeed. For one thing, here's a rattlesnake (wearing a hat) coiled around the crow of the sheriff's hat, and Spit either picks his teeth with barbed wire or he eats it. Anyway, their plan is that one of them will marry the Widow Jones and then take off to Mexico with her money.
There's plenty of action left in the story as the widow and her servants hatch plans to get rid of the suitors.
"Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch" is published by Schwartz & Wade Books (2014). The book costs $17.99 in hardcover. It is also available as an ebook. You can find it in the children's room at the Moffat County Library. This is the funniest book that I have reviewed in some time.