Author Erickson shares origins of 'Hank the Cowdog' at Ranching Heritage Center

Tuesday, October 18, 2016 | By Hank's Staff

From the article in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal:

..."When the author of the Hank the Cowdog series began writing, he didn’t know he was writing for children, he told fourth-graders from Rush Elementary School on Tuesday during an event at the National Ranching Heritage Center.

John R. Erickson has written 68 books in the Hank the Cowdog series. He has sold more than 9 million books worldwide.

Now the National Ranching Heritage Center is featuring a special non-fictional trio of Hank the Cowdog books as a way to explain ranch life to the world.

The books, told through the voice of a ranch dog that Erickson described as “not very smart,” generally focus on fictional, humorous tales of life on the ranch.

Erickson said he got the idea to explain the details of ranch life to kids. He spent several months writing three books, with the first about ranching and livestock, the second about cowboying and horses, and the third about ranch wildlife.

“I had a lot of fun letting Hank explain this way of life. It was kind of funny, but also conveyed a lot of good, solid ranching. But when I finished, I didn’t know what to do with those. So I put them away for 15 years. I didn’t think about them until I paid a visit out here to the Ranching Heritage Center,” Erickson said.

In talking with Julie Hodges, the director of education at the National Ranching Heritage Center, Erickson said he found out the NRHC might have a use for books that explain what life is like on a Texas ranch.

Then Erickson said he had a conversation with his friend, George Clay, explaining to him that the NRHC would like to get a copy of his books into the hands of every fourth grader in Lubbock.

“As soon as I told him that, he said, ‘I want to fund it.’ He said, ‘You don’t need to go to anyone else,’” Erickson said.

Clay had one stipulation: he wanted the books dedicated to the memory of Soren Dahlstrom, the daughter of the two men’s mutual friends.

Carl Andersen, executive director of the National Ranching Heritage Center, said the books are of value to local schools, but they are also a linchpin in the center’s plans for education at the NRHC.
“This series is going to be the foundation of a whole new piece of the museum that will be built and added,” Andersen said, adding that the books will help open educational doors to children and adults alike. “We are absolutely excited about the venture.”

Joni Rodela, the Lubbock ISD social studies coordinator, said Hodges approached her with Erickson’s manuscripts, and when they started reading them, they realized they aligned with state curriculum.

“We began pulling out state standard after state standard. We got so tickled and so excited about so many different ways that you could use this amazing literary non-fiction component in the classroom, and have opportunities for kids to engage with everything from geographic concepts to economic concepts, and just these wonderful, wonderful avenues that we’ve never been able to relay to students in a fashion that they’ve been able to understand before. So this is going to be a significant resource,” Rodela said.

Lubbock ISD put together a contest for the students call the Ride for the Brand Challenge. Students were asked to create their own school brand and to put together a school video, poem or other production.

Rush Elementary students won the contest after producing both a brand depicting a star being hit by an arrow and a poem about respect, courage and teamwork. Fourth-graders from Rush were the first in the district to get their copies of the first of the three-book series, “Hank the Cowdog’s Ranch Life Series: Ranching and Livestock.”

The fourth-graders also listened Tuesday as Erickson described his family’s life as farmers and ranchers in West Texas, as well as two songs that he and his wife, Kris, played and sang for the students.

Each of the Hank the Cowdog books starts out the same way, Erickson said, quizzing students to shout out the first line along with him: “It’s me again, Hank the Cowdog.”

Erickson said he started out writing humorous articles for West Texas Livestock Weekly, Pro Rodeo Sports News, The Cattleman and other publications. Hank the Cowdog made his first appearance in The Cattleman, he said, later becoming a book that he self-published.

“It was a short story. I wasn’t thinking of children at all. It came out in The Cattleman magazine, which is for adult males involved in agriculture - probably the worst demographic you can pick if you want to sell books, because adult males involved in agriculture don’t buy anything but horse feed and chewing tobacco, and maybe a pickup every 15 years. But for some reason, kids got their parents’ books, and they began taking their books to school, and I started taking calls from teachers and librarians,” Erickson said." ...


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