David Ezra Stein has a talent for taking the simplest stories and giving them lots of heart. I wanted to review his book Leaves but my copy is out on loan and the library's copy is out. It's the perfect book for this time of year and one of my regular Fall books. But while I was at the library I picked up a copy of Cowboy Ned and Andy which I hadn't read.
Cowboy Ned and his horse Andy are best friends. They are driving cows across the desert together when Ned mentions that the next day is his birthday and that he's missing his family. Andy decides that he wants to do something special for his friend and settles on a birthday cake. After the sun goes down and Ned goes to bed, Andy sets off to find a cake. He runs into numerous desert animals but none of them know where to find a cake. Andy keeps walking until almost the sun is up. He heads to a house on the edge of the desert and the man there offers the horse some advice. He recommends that rather than worry about a cake, that Andy just spend time with his friend. So Andy runs back as fast as he can and gets back just as the sun has risen on Ned's birthday. The friends hug and the cows sing Happy Birthday.
This sweet little story has a pretty quiet plot but a ton of heart. The character of Andy is just wonderful. He's such a good friend and he's so incredibly polite to the other animals. Even the scorpion who is a bit rude to him. He refers to everyone as sir and he asks about a cake in the nicest possibly way. He doesn't think about how tired he is, he only thinks about making things better for his friend. I was just loved the character. Ned is a bit of a background character in the book. I did love the names of his family members: Nedna, Nedrick, and Ma. The story was simple but so sweet.
David uses watercolor and ink to create the illustrations. The ink has been brushed on to give the images a rougher look which fits well with the western theme. Actually the rough look of the pictures really adds a sweet element to the book. David has imbued the book with energy and a childlike enthusiasm. The book's palette includes a lot of browns, blues, and yellows, mixed with the occasional orange or gray which works beautifully with the theme. We see the huge expanses of brown sand. I love the beautiful clear blue sky and the rough moon that hangs. My favorite spread had to be one where Andy has just left the scorpion and is heading toward the rancher's house. A majority of the page is sand with just a touch of sky at the top of the page. There are a couple clouds and we see Andy heading into the distance. It's not a pivotal scene but the colors work so well together with the rough mountains and clouds. It's just a gorgeous simple image. And that pretty much summed up the book for me. Gorgeous, simple and sweet. A great buddy story with a huge heart.