In keeping with our accidental 2014 read-aloud theme of “let’s finish the series, or at least read another installment in it,” we closed out the read-aloud month with The Home Ranch by Ralph Moody. This is the fourth of Moody’s books we’ve enjoyed together, and at this point, I can’t say which one is our favorite; we’ve loved them all. For us, this one followed The Fields of Home, and I actually think we read them in the wrong order. I think we should’ve read The Home Ranch before The Fields of Home, for according to the back of our copy of The Home Ranch, this story develops an episode that happens near the end of Man of the Family. (This site has a good list of the books in order and with a brief synopsis for each one.) At any rate, this story “feels” younger to me than The Fields of Home, and I like that.
In The Home Ranch, Ralph “Little Britches” has been hired by Mr. Batchlett to work as a hand on his mountain ranch for the summer. Ralph is twelve years old but is quite the accomplished horseman, so this is not quite as unusual as it seems to our modern sensibilities. The story unfolds as a summer of hard work and fun, with Ralph doing all the normal ranch hand things: choosing his string of horses, cutting cattle from the herd for trading or selling, going on the trail with the ranch foreman to trade cattle, etc. Plenty of adventures are to be had, too, for Ralph makes friends with Hazel Bendt, the ranch foreman’s daughter, who is quite the ranch hand herself. Hazel knows the inner workings of the ranch, so she advises Ralph in many arenas, including his choice of horses for his string. One of the horses he chooses on his own is Blueboy, a half-wild beauty of a stallion. One of the running storylines in this book is Ralph’s relationship with Blueboy and his hard work at learning the ways of this beautiful horse. Of course, there are other stories here, and lots of them. A few of the chapters develop the personalities of a couple of the other ranch hands: mild-mannered Zeb, known for his constant singing of “She Wore a Yella Ribbon ‘Round Her Neck,” who walks softly but carries the proverbial big stick; and Hank, the ornery old cow poke who gets on everyone’s nerves with his boasting but who manages to save his crew from being swept away in a cloudburst (what I suppose we would know as a flash flood). There’s a lot of excitement in this story, too, including a chapter in which Hank and Ralph get lost in the mountains and one in which Ralph and Mr. Bendt are caught in a dust storm. Some of the excitement comes in the form of violence: a new hand named Trinidad comes to the ranch, and he tries to “beat the time” (as my granny would’ve said) of one of the other hands with the pretty school ma’am, Jenny, and that tension eventually erupts into a bunkhouse brawl. The book ends on a high note, and everyone from the forty year old reader down to the four year old listener loved the ending and would’ve been happy to plunge right into the next “horse book,” as the DLM called it. The best way I can describe this novel is that it’s all the best parts of an old-timey Western, all written from the perspective of a twelve year old boy. It’s chock-full of cowboy vernacular, too, which is interesting since Lulu and I have been hitting standard English usage pretty hard this year. The novel has given me lots of examples to cite for Lulu. We love the Little Britches books and give them all (or at least all of them that we’ve read) a Highly Recommended.
Other Little Britches books we’ve read: