Adventures on the Circle Star Ranch

17 November 2021

Adventures on the Circle Star Ranch
Written by Jackie Cameron, Illustrated by Wendi Nordell
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$14.95 ISBN 9-781988-783703

As a resident of Vancouver Island, it was a strange synchronicity that I happened to be on the TransCanada near Swift Current as I finished reading the final chapters of Adventures on the Circle Star Ranch. This lively illustrated novel for young readers is set in that very area, and writer Jackie Cameron—whose family “had horses and raised beef cattle”—also lives nearby. While I shared the adventures of Ben (nine), Sarah (eleven) and their “fearless dog, Scruffy” aloud, my partner steered us between golden pastures, where the deer and antelope were indeed playing, and “dusty country road[s]”and “sagebrush” were plentiful. So cool.

This 60-page ranch-family story is divided into short chapters, and the age-appropriate language— Cameron’s a retired librarian/school division resource professional-turned-author­—ensures that juvenile readers won’t struggle as the realistic plot (including a cattle rustling mystery) unfolds. The siblings argue as siblings do, ie: Sarah says, “Mom, make him stop!” after Ben threatens to tell the story about Sarah learning to play the bagpipes: when she played the cows came running toward the house because, as Dad deduced, “when the cows heard Sarah playing the bagpipes, they thought it was the sound of a calf in trouble.”

The entertaining book is full of details and anecdotes that this reader guesses are lifted from “real life”. The kids do chores, like ensuring the calves “don’t get too far behind” when the herd’s being moved to the summer pasture; a friend’s dad got caught “between a barbwire fence and some cows rushing toward the creek” and earned twenty stitches; and Mom hands Sarah “an old cellphone” before the brother and sister are about to ride off on their horses (with two Girl Guide cookies each), and tells her daughter “I just put ten dollars of time on this phone, so take it with you in case you have to phone me.” Adults “talk about boring things like the need for more rain, how cool most of the summer has been so far, and the high prices of gas.”

There are several food descriptions, ie: picnic lunches, and the cattle drive lunch, which includes “Grandpa Joe’s gluten-free sandwiches” and “Carrots and red pepper sticks, apples and grapes, cookies and granola bars”. It’s easy to imagine the “huge thermoses of coffee and tea set on the tailgate” as Scruffy—the abandoned dog found while the brother and sister are out on their horses with “Dad” (who is “[riding] … around the pastures to see if any fences need fixing”)— darts between the characters and calves.

Wendi Nordell’s detailed black and white drawings—one or two per chapter—enhance Cameron’s text and tell stories of their own ie: cowboy-hatted adults sit around a campfire while the children split into small groups, and a horse checks out the action from beyond the barn. Kids could have fun colouring the illustrations with pencil crayons.

And what about those cattle rustlers? Ah, you’ll just have to read this endearing “wild west” book to learn more.


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