Written by Bob Shea, Illustrated by Lane Smith
Roaring Brook Press, 2014
Drywater Gulch had a toad problem.
The plot in a nutshell: An unconventional sheriff gets the best of some criminals.
The Toad Brothers are the real problem for Drywater Gulch and their list of crimes includes stealing gold, kissing cattle and insulting chili. When young Sheriff Ryan rides in on a tortoise, the Mayor isn’t sure he can help, since he can’t shoot or ride a horse (but he does know a lot about dinosaurs). While they’re talking, the bank is robbed and the criminals leave a giant hole in the wall. Sheriff Ryan attributes it to a T Rex. When the stagecoach is robbed, he blames it on velociraptors. The Toad Brothers show up and Sheriff Ryan tells them he has no time for them, since he needs to find the dinosaurs who committed the crimes. Angry at not getting credit for their work, the Toad Brothers argue that they did all those things and they confess to other things, as well, to back up their claims. They insist on being locked up, to prove that they are notorious criminals. So the sheriff locks them in the jail and the town cheers. Then Sheriff Ryan rides his tortoise, very slowly, on to the next town.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here, folks. I loved everything about this hilarious and unexpected book. Author Bob Shea writes the Western dialect in such an overdone and silly way that it just begs for you to read it aloud in your best imitation of Gabby Hayes. I read it aloud about a dozen times, every time a new friend or family member would come into the room, and it never lost its humor or fun. The book keeps pitching comical ideas and every one of them works. It’s a smart book that never plays down to its audience.
Illustrator Lane Smith is the perfect partner for Mr. Shea. His digital artwork, done in mostly sepia tones, evokes the old West but keeps it comical. In spite of the story’s wacky plot, all of the characters appear to be taking their roles very seriously (which just makes it all seem funnier). The Toad Brothers are wonderful laughable villains, especially the Big Weird Toad, who does most of the cattle kissing. This is one you won’t mind reading over and over, if only to say the line about “smooching them beefy lips” in your best cowboy drawl. Don’t miss out on this one.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you never know when your knowledge is going to come in handy.