Lone Star Lit Review

Patricia Vermillion
Hound Dawg
Illustrated by Cheryl Pilgrim
Texas Christian University Press
978-0-87565-615-1, hardcover, 40 pgs., $21.95
August 28, 2015

Hound Dawg is librarian Patricia Vermillion’s retelling of the folktale “The Little Red Hen” with a Texas twist. Veteran illustrator Cheryl Pilgrim provides whimsical images in the tradition of American folk art. Lazy Hound Dawg lives on a cotton farm with his industrious friends: Bessie the Cow, Calico the Cat, and Penny the hen. Hound Dawg is the story of how this idle hound (“Why he never worked a lick. The only thing he did was bark and howl”) earns his nickname: Guard Dawg.

One day Hound Dawg spies a sprout pushing up through the dirt patch next to his porch. Bessie the Cow inspects the sprout and declares it a cornstalk. Hound Dawg daydreams of cornbread while his exasperated friends (“Great balls of fur,” Calico said. “I’ll do it”) do all the work: tending, watering, harvesting, and baking. Meanwhile Hound Dawg channels Prissy from Gone With the Wind: “I don’t know nothing about making cornbread.” When I read that my brain added the “Miss Scarlett.”

Of course, when Hound Dawg smells the cornbread baking, he shows up for chow. Shamed by his friends, he slinks back out the door and under the porch, which turns out to be the perfect vantage point to see Raccoon headed for the freshly baked cornbread cooling on the windowsill. So Hound Dawg does what hound dogs do, chasing off Raccoon and saving the day. And that is how he earned his nickname, Guard Dawg. “And from that day ’til this, Hound Dawg always does — and gets — his fair share.”

While some adults may find Hound Dawg a tad heavy on the cornpone (Bessie the Cow is fond of exclaiming “bless my butter”), your little ones will love it, especially if read aloud with the proper twang. Children should be introduced to the joys of puns early (Penny the Hen declares the cornbread “eggcellent”). There are valuable lessons in this timeless tale: the work ethic and sharing, as well as forgiveness; the Texas twist makes it more fun.

Hound Dawg includes a bibliography, lesson plan suggestions for teachers, a recipe for cornbread, and fun facts about cotton and corn. These fun facts are a pleasant surprise. For example, cottonseed oil is used in toothpaste, baseballs, and motorcycle windshields, among other things. Did you know that corn is used in crayons, fireworks, and shoe polish, and that an ear of corn has 800 kernels? True story. I’m off to mail my copy to my grandson.