Monday, June 3, 2013

Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo by Nancy Bo Flood, photographs by Jan Sonnenmair

 I once lived in Phoenix, Arizona for about 4 years and while I was there, I did a lot of things I never thought this NYC girl would do.  Like, I went tubing down the ice cold Salt River with friends, I rode a horse through the Superstition Mountains and I ate more Navajo Fry Bread than any human should (because it was so good).  And I marveled at the beauty of the Arizona desert every single day.

But one of the other things I did was go to the rodeo - the annual rodeo in Prescott, AZ, and the Navajo County Fair rodeo in Holbrook, Arizona.  So naturally when I saw Nancy Bo Flood's new book Cowboy Up! Ride the Navajo Rodeo, I knew this was a book I was going to have to read.

In poetry, prose and wonderful color photographs all working together in tandem, Cowboy Up! tells the story of going to the rodeo from the point of view of the children going to and participating in the rodeo events for youngsters.  The book begins with a poem called Tomorrow capturing perfectly the night before excitement that always makes sleeping almost impossible.  The story continues through the next day and all the events of a rodeo, including the very moving Grand Entry and ever the Midway Walk, which was always my favorite part of any rodeo:

A young buckaroo with fry bread

"Hey, what's this?
I sashay back,
nose sniffing,
stomach growling.
Going to buy me some
crisp hot fry bread,
grease still popping, sweet honey

Cowboy Up! ends with the trip home, but does our narrator come home with a champion?

Though the poetry can be a little uneven in places, the expressive snappy lines should still have a great deal of appeal to young readers.  And Sonnenmair's photography is just breathing taking at time, just look at the cover photo or the one about of the Grand Entry with that beautiful rainbow in the background.

It really is just this grand
I especially liked the implication of the title of this book.  Simply put, even if you go home without a winner's ribbon, the lesson carried in this book is a most important one: Cowboy Up! means when things are tough and don't go your way, you have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and keep on trying.  And a rodeo is the perfect place for understanding the meaning of Cowboy Up.

There isn't much to choose from in the world of books about Native Americans, which make this particularly welcome book.  Even if you don't care much for rodeos, it will give you a window into one exciting part of life for Navajo children.  Luckily for us, Award winning storyteller Nancy Bo Flood has spent time living on the Navajo Nation Reservation and has already written several books about the Navajo people.  Cowboy Up! is her latest contribution about the very interesting, very family oriented culture of the Navajo Nation.

Cowboy Up! is definitely a book that should be on your reading list.

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

Cowboy Up! has an excellent PDF activity guide created with the Common Core in mind by Donna Gonzales

Nonfiction Monday is hosted this week by Jennifer at the Jean Little Library

This is book 4 of my 2013 Nonfiction Picture Book Reading Challenge hosted by Kit Lit Frenzy


  1. Interesting find Alex. I have to say we haven't read much in the Native American category and welcome this suggestion! Will look for it at the local library.

  2. Thanks, Reshama. I wish there were more good books about Native Americans for kids, especially in picture books. I hope you find and enjoy Cowboy Up!

  3. Thank you, Alex, for this wonderful and insightful review. I appreciate your comments about the importance of all aspects of being part of rodeo - family, practice, losing and trying again, and being proud of one's culture. Cowboy up! Nancy Bo Flood


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