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Book Review

This humor story by John R. Erickson is the first in the "Hank the Cowdog" series published by Viking of the Penguin Group, part of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. (Illustrations are by Gerald L. Holmes.)

The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog is written for kids ages 8 to 10. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Hank the Cowdog is the self-proclaimed Head of Ranch Security on Loper and Sally May's farm. He narrates this tale with bravado, proud of his dedication to his work and attention to detail. Though Hank says he is often under-appreciated, fed cheap co-op dog food and wrongly accused of bad behavior, he insists he works tirelessly to keep the farm safe.

A chicken is murdered. Hank and his dimwitted sidekick, a mutt named Drover, scour the farm for evidence. Hank berates Drover for his inability to track the killer. Then Hank leaps on what he thinks is a raccoon, only to land on a porcupine instead. Drover provides the next clue in their investigation when he tells Hank about the enormous monster he's spotted. The dogs prepare to battle the monster that night. Hank attacks what turns out to be a milk cow, getting himself into trouble with his master.

Hank and Drover sit in back of the pickup while Loper and his friend Slim stop at the Waterhole Café in town. Annoyed by a standoffish boxer in the next truck, Hank and Drover tease the dog going to and peeing on the other truck's tires. The boxer is chained up and can only bark loudly, drawing his annoyed owner out of the restaurant several times. Hank and Drover continue to talk trash to the boxer until his barking forces his angry owner to leave. Hank and Drover are proud of themselves for their teamwork.

A few days later, Drover and Hank find another dead chicken. Hank still has no leads, but the sight of the chicken makes his stomach growl with hunger. He sends Drover away so he can enjoy a chicken dinner. Sally May catches Hank eating and assumes he's the one killing the chickens. Loper punishes Hank by tying the chicken's head to a piece of string and making Hank wear it on his neck. Hank can no longer bear being so under-appreciated for his work. He decides to leave the ranch and become an outlaw.

Hank heads into the canyon country. He still can't get the smelly chicken head off his neck. He encounters two buzzards, Wallace and Junior, who are certain they smell death on him. Hank tells them they can have the chicken head if they can get it off of him. They manage to tear through the string. But as the two buzzards fight over who gets the head, another bird comes and carries it away.

Hank helps a pretty coyote he calls Missy remove her head from being stuck in a Hawaiian Punch can. Her pack knows and dislikes Hank from his days on the ranch. They surround Hank to attack, but Missy tells them he saved her life. They invite Hank to join their pack and marry Missy. Hank embraces the idea for a time. He enjoys lying around all day rather than having to be alert and vigilant.

Two coyotes, Rip and Snort, take him out to the silage pit where they all get drunk on fermented liquid. They hear Drover barking, and Hank goes to talk to him. Drover tells Hank how disappointed he is to see his hero this way. He tells Hank he'll personally never be a traitor like Hank.

Coyote life begins to lose its luster for Hank. He dislikes the way coyotes fight all the time, how the young coyotes are always nipping at his tail and how Missy's idea of a gourmet dinner is rotting meat that makes Hank sick to his stomach. He learns the pack is planning a raid on his old ranch. During the raid, Hank realizes he can't let the coyotes hurt his ranch or Drover. He fights the coyotes until Loper comes out with his gun to help.

For a short time, Hank is welcomed home and finds himself in his owners' good graces. He solves the case of the chicken murders, concluding that Missy's brother, Scraunch, was to blame. Then, working a new case, he attacks what he thinks is a badger. It turns out to be a skunk. As Sally May swats the smelly Hank out of the house with her broom, Hank realizes life is back to normal.

Christian Beliefs

The coyotes sing a song about their life being free of responsibilities, including church and Sunday school. Hank says a little prayer before eating the smelly, rotten meat Missy offers him. As a coyote is about to bite Hank's neck, Hank thinks he hears Saint Peter blow his horn. He's actually hearing the blast of Loper's shotgun.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

As Drover’s self-proclaimed superior, Hank tries to train the smaller dog to be brave, identify scents and protect the farm. Although Hank likes Drover, in a patronizing sort of way, he often calls him names and is critical of Drover’s trepidation. Missy’s father, the leader of the coyote tribe, puts aside his differences with Hank when he learns the dog has saved his daughter. He invites Hank to join their pack and become one of them.

Hank’s owners treat him as a ranch dog rather than a house pet, feeding him Co-op dog food and offering little affection. They get annoyed with Hank for his frequent misconduct, which includes eating a dead chicken and getting into messy tussles with porcupines and skunks.


H--- against Texas appears once and mild profanities such as dang, dern, heck and gosh appear several times. Characters occasionally tell each other to shut up and engage in name-calling. Some of their insults include idiot, dummy, worthless and stupid.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at ThrivingFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Drunkenness: Two coyotes take Hank to the silage pit, and they all get drunk from the fermentation happening there. Drover is disappointed in Hank when he sees his hero taking up with coyotes and drunk.

Lying: After his stint living with the coyote pack, Hank tries to save face by telling Drover he was only there doing undercover work.

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For additional parenting resources, download a free issue of Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine published by Focus on the Family, at ThrivingFamily.com/magazine.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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