By CHRISTINA WOOD
Of the Baker City Herald
There is a reading phenomenon sweeping through Baker County schools that has third through fifth grade students panting in anticipation of the next chapter and reading their local newspaper, to boot.
Hank the Cowdog, as nearly every school kid knows, is head of ranch security and as mangy a mutt as ever chased a flea. Hanks commentary on the humans and other animals in his life as well as the outrageous situations he get involved in offer the basis for the series of books written by John R. Erickson.
Erickson, a writer from Perryton, Texas, has written a 12 chapter serial adventure especially for newspapers.
The Case of the Dancing Cowboy began appearing Tuesdays in the Baker City Herald March 1. Fifteen sponsors in the community provide selected classes in the district a copy of Tuesdays edition for each student in the class, as well as a Hank the Cowdog poster and a teachers guide for each classroom.
Sponsors were found for classes at Brooklyn, North Baker, South Baker and Haines in third through fifth grades.
Last week, many of these classes held sponsor appreciation days.
South Baker students in the fifth grade classes of Jerri Wickert and Merrie Hensley invited Benita Britt of Britt Sand andamp; Gravel and Troy Knabe of Safeway Store to lunch. Everyone in the two classes picked up their trays in the cafeteria and carried them back to their rooms for lunch.
Britts daughter, Tonita, 5, joined her mother at the luncheon. Students in each classroom were assigned as hosts to each guest. Desks were grouped together and in Wickerts room, complete with tablecloths. Each table featured a western inspired centerpiece and decorations.
Also invited to the event was Kari Borgen, publisher of the Baker City Herald. Borgens two daughters attend South Baker School.
Britt is very supportive of the program. I think it is important for people at any level to continue to read, she said. She added that her daughter was a big fan of Hanks.
Hank is very popular among the students, both boys and girls, rivaling the success of the Harry Potter series.
Ive read them all, Logan Ermovick said, while his friend John Clark called them, Cool.
The students in Wickerts class said their reading had extended to other books written for young people and mentioned Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Mysteries as well as Harry Potter and Junie B. Jones books.
One young man, Cody Hensley, said Ive got the first six Hardy Boys books. My uncle gave them to me after he found out I read one and liked it.
That Hank appears in their local newspapers has led these voracious readers to new feeding grounds for their minds.
Theyve really read the newspaper now, Wickert said of her students. After finishing off the Youth page, students have begun to read other sections of the paper, some for the first time.
Hensley agreed that the series had encouraged reading in her class as well. They love it. I dont know if it has gotten their interest into any other books yet. They look forward to it, and they like to look at the ads, she said.
Each member of Wickerts class wrote an original short skit based on Hanks characters and presented them to the enjoyment of the sponsors. Props were simple, a little trash out of a wastebasket, a black domino mask for the raccoon and floppy paper hounds ears taped over the actors own, completed the look.
Hensleys students broke into small groups to read original compositions based on chapter 7 in the series which was carried April 24.
Two students, Sam Reynolds and Pedro Heredia, even offered an English-Spanish version of their story.
Knabe, representing the Safeway Store, said he had been contacted by Hensley concerning sponsorship of the program to her class. He added that his company was especially interested in supporting programs in the local community that benefit children.
Borgen was delighted by the creativity shown by the students in their skits and compositions.
Weve wanted to start a newspaper in the schools program for some time now, and the Hank the Cowdog series provided us the perfect opportunity to give our kids a familiar character in a story on a weekly basis, she said.
Its been a win-win for all of us. The kids love reading the newspaper and our sponsor businesses know theyre a valued part of the reading experience in the schools.
Hanks adventure in The Case of the Dancing Cowboy will end with the school year.
But Borgen said students can look forward to more Hank in the future.
Were really excited that its turned out so well that we plan to continue the program in the fall, she revealed.
For those interested in Hank the Cowdog, the next serial will be titled The Case of the Watermelon Patch Mystery.
According to author Erickson someone or something is raiding Sally Mays watermelon patch. Slim the cowboy decides that Hank and his deputy, Drover, are the perfect team to protect the patch from the nightly intruder.
Will Hank save the day, Erickson wonders? Or will he get caught with his paws in watermelon juice?