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Great Stories for Rural Families

A literary agent told me that no one would be interested in my book about a ranching family. “Country kids don’t read and New York City kids won’t relate to that kind of story,” she said.

It’s been my experience that country kids LOVE to read, but it has to be authentic to the lifestyle they know. I realized this when I read aloud a beautiful picture book about a tractor.

My young son stopped me before we reached the end. “A tractor wouldn’t park in a garage,” he said. “It’d have to park in a barn or shed. He’d NEVER fit in a garage.” He NEVER looked at that book again.

John Erickson, author and creator of Hank the Cowdog Series

John Erickson, author and creator of Hank the Cowdog Series

In celebration of small-town America and our rural kids, and the things they know to be true, I present a reading list. These are a few of my all-time favorites by authors who got it right.

1. HANK THE COWDOG by John Erickson. Who doesn’t love Hank, head of ranch security? The reason country families can relate is because this author is a real Texas Panhandle cowboy and ranch owner. He’s kept journals his whole life, detailing every day events when he spent most days on horseback working for area ranches. It’s those journals that feed the adventures of Hank. When our boys were little, we’d read a chapter a night. On a long road trip Hank on tape was truly Heaven sent. Mr. Erickson even penned the songs and sings. These stories are laugh out loud fun.

2. THE HAYMEADOW by Gary Paulsen (Random House Children’s Books). This is about shepherding, and you cattle raisers might turn up your nose a bit, but please consider giving this book a try. What you can relate to is the dangers faced by a 14 year old boy all alone as he tends to thousands of sheep over one summer. “Things just happen to sheep.” I love this book. Good for family bed time reading.

3. WARHORSE by Michael Morpurgo (Scholastic). Written from the horse’s point of view, Joey tells of his life from farm horse to Calvary mount,  dragging artillery, and surviving during a time of war. Please, please find this book for your family library.

4. ON THE BANK OF PLUM CREEK by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Harper Collins Publishers). If your kids are interested in life when their great-grandparents were alive, this classic would be perfect for teaching genealogy.  The story is so simple, yet vividly depicts every day life on the prarie of America. This would make a great read aloud for very young kids or a good first chapter book for beginning readers. Let your child read aloud to you.

on the banks of plum creek

5. SAN DOMINGO, The Medicine Hat Stallion by Marguerite Henry.  For any reader who loves horses, you can’t go wrong with stories by this author. Here’s the most wonderful news, Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin imprint has launched a line of deluxe hardcover editions of 20 of Henry’s novels.

6. HEART OF A SHEPHERD by Rosanne Parry (Random House). This is a modern tale about a ranching family whose father is shipped off to Iraq. The youngest son must help his grandparents keep the ranch going.