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The Gingerbread Cowboy by Janet Squires: Southwest Inspired Gingerbread Man Story
The Gingerbread Cowboy Story Summary
The Gingerbread Cowboy by Janet Squires and Holly Berry adds a clever Southwestern twist to the traditional gingerbread boy fairy tale featuring a runaway gingerbread boy who comes magically to life, only to run away from everyone whom he meets, because they all want to eat him! The gingerbread boy is clever and fast, and he outruns nearly everyone he encounters. Finally the gingerbread boy is outfoxed by a fox who tricks him into climbing on his nose in order to cross a river, and once he is midstream and completely helpless, the gingerbread boy is eaten by the clever trickster who throws his head back and swallows the gingerbread boy in one gulp. The tale has the pleasant repetition of other familiar fairy tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Squires' contemporary Southwest rendition of the story is full of local color. The farmer and his wife become a biscuit-baking rancher and his wife who make breakfast every morning in their ten-gallon hats. Tired of making her delicious signature biscuits, the rancher's wife makes a gingerbread cowboy instead, complete with a belt buckle made of spun sugar. When the gingerbread cowboy jumps to life, he exclaims,
"Giddyup, giddyup as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man."
The gingerbread cowboy gallops along at a frantic pace as he runs from familiar characters from the desert southwest, including a hungry roadrunner, prickly-pear-eating javelinas (pronounce hav-uh-leen-uhs), long-horned cattle, hungry wranglers who chase the gingerbread cowboy, and his final nemesis, a clever coyote. Squire's characters are entertaining and reflect the can-do attitude associated with southwest living. I particularly like the fact that the rancher's wife attempts to lasso the gingerbread cowboy back into her possession as he escapes away from the growing crowd with the coyote.
The coyote claims he doesn't want to eat the gingerbread cowboy, but instead offers to help him cross the river, which is flowing at full capacity after a rainstorm. The coyote swims across the river that looks much like the Colorado River surrounded by the high red sandstone cliffs near Moab, Utah, and other similar landscapes in Arizona and Texas. The gingerbread cowboy starts on the coyote's tail, then climbs to his back, and lulled by a feeling of false safety, ends up on the coyote's nose. The story ends in the traditional fashion, with the gingerbread cowboy making a tasty feast for the coyote. But on the last page the coyote is depicted helping the rancher and his wife making a new cowboy from gingerbread and spun sugar!
"Giddyap, Giddyap, just as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!"
Why This Book Is a Must-Read
This story maintains the familiar elements of the gingerbread boy folktale/fairy tale while introducing a cast of delightful southwest characters and local color. The depiction of a roadrunner abandoning his breakfast of lizard, and the group of javelinas munching on prickly pear cactus is true to life. Javelinas actually do eat cactus, and they travel nocturnally in small groups eating cactus and other succulent desert plants. Speaking of succulent desert plants, the desert plants depicted in this story include spiky agaves (pronounced ah-gah-veys) and a variety of cactus and other flora and fauna found locally in the desert.
The selection of the coyote as the trickster is an apt and clever twist, and reflects the coyote's role in Native American folktales as a trickster character. It is an interesting choice in the Gingerbread Cowboy to have two tricksters! Both the gingerbread man and the coyote compete for this role in the story.
Recommended Picture Books about the Desert Southwest
Working on a Southwest theme featuring native-American inspired stories featuring the trickster coyote? The following two books can give some additional insight into the unique landscape depicted in the Gingerbread Cowboy story.
You may want to add Coyote and the Laughing Butterflies by Harriet Peck Taylor to your reading list. This beautifully illustrated picture book is a quest story with some butterflies who are out to trick a trickster! The watercolor illustrations in the story nicely capture the richness of life in the Sonoran Desert, with flowering barrel cacti and saguaro cactus with red rock formations in a hilly desert landscape.
Another favorite of mine is Cactus Hotel by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Megan Lloyd. This fascinating book explores the amazing saguaro cactus and all of the animals that call it home.
Related Children's Books
Some excellent companion selections to The Gingerbread Cowboy include these gingerbread-themed stories and a few books featuring the Desert Southwest region of the United States (usually Arizona and New Mexico):
- The Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone is a straightforward traditional telling the the gingerbread boy fairy tale. Published in the 1970s the book's illustrations reflect the time of its publication. Click on my link to read a full review of this book.
- The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett adds a Scandinavian twist to the gingerbread folktale but the real hero of this book is a small boy named Matti who rescues the beloved gingerbread baby and builds him a house to live in. If you are unfamiliar with Jan Brett's trademark illustration style, her books are folksy, whimsical, and full of intricate details.
- Coyote and the Laughing Butterflies is another Southwest tale inspired by a Pomo Indian legend and authored by Harriett Peck Taylor. In this story it is Coyote who is tricked by a small band of butterflies who play a practical joke on Coyote for three nights in a row, while Coyote is trying to collect salt for his wife, who grows more and more impatient by the minute. This story is told with gentle humor and the watercolor illustrations are an appealing addition to this tale that is appropriate for kindergarten and up.
- Another favorite book featuring the Desert Southwest is Cactus Hotel by Brenda Z. Guiberson and illustrated by Megan Lloyd. This fascinating book explores the amazing saguaro cactus and all of the animals that call it home, and is a great selection for STEM enthusiasts.
© 2010 Carolyn Augustine