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Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads

KidSheriff-500x389As I sit here typing, I am staring at a poster for last year’s Caldecott winner, Brian Floca’s Locomotive. Would the committee that honored that wonderful book have given the time of day to the utter silliness that is Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads?

Of course, I have no idea. Anyway: new year, new committee. (That’s one of the best things about these book committees — they are new each year.) January will be filled with reading and rereading; making notes and formulating arguments; looking over the list of nominated books and reading over the written support for each book. When they see Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads on the list (for I cannot imagine a Caldecott world that does not include this book on its list), some members will scratch their heads and utter the words I often uttered when I served on the committee: “What the heck? Who nominated this? Now I have to read it again???” Yes, you do, fellow members! Bwahahaha.

And here is why someone (or maybe several someones) will nominate this book.

1. It’s so dang funny. COME ON! Look at that cover. Here we have a little white-clad hombre named Ryan. His foot rests on a tortoise. Ryan seems to be pondering hard about something. Look closer at him. His belt buckle sports a dinosaur. And, to the left, we see three dudes (the Toad brothers) staring at him, evil intent in their eyes. Well, most of their eyes. The middle guy, whose teeth are loosely sprinkled across his gums, has an eye patch. And — ewwwww — his ear is half-bitten off. The bottom dude has a gunshot hole through his hat, and the top guy has a righteous scar on his nose.

2. Use of color. Have you ever seen so much brown in your whole life? The end pages and every illustration is chockablock full of brown. Because of All That Brown, the eye easily notices the occasional guy in white riding a tortoise or the whitish cow being kissed by outlaws or the red tongue of an outlaw insulting Mayor McMuffin.

(COME ON — I just typed that a cow was being kissed by outlaws and someone was riding a tortoise! And the mayor is named McMuffin?! You know you want this book! Right now.)

3. Use of line. With all that brown going on, Lane Smith is going to have some artistic magic up his sleeve. He does. You know he does. First the town is awash in vertical lines. The mayor’s pants are decorated with straight lines; even his round ample belly is made up of straight vertical lines. The most dramatic scene, where the sheriff is measuring for the jail, uses shape and line to extend the story. The legs of the Toad brothers menace the page with their size and sharp angles while our hero measures the jail door.

It’s not until the varmints have been tricked into entering the jail that those vertical lines disappear as we see hats being thrown into the air and townspeople dancing. Oh, and some lady in a ginormous pink bonnet has her fist raised.

4. The humor. Nuff said. Having the sheriff come into town on a tortoise taking two full page-turns is genius. (“Give him a minute.”) Making the boy’s only area of expertise dinosaurs will make any kid laugh. Out loud. For real. Every single spread has funny stuff going on. Slow down. Look.

Will this be enough to catch the eye of the committee? Yes. Will that translate into votes for the book? That is a whole ‘nother thang. Will the committee love talking about this? What do you think?


Robin Smith About Robin Smith

Robin Smith is a second-grade teacher at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a reviewer for Kirkus and The Horn Book Magazine and has served on multiple award committees.



  1. Dean Schneider says:

    You can see how the infectious humor of the book has infected Robin’s writing. It is truly a funny book, a good example of the interchange between text and illustrations, each supporting and enlarging the other. I have an advantage here, though: I have witnessed Robin’s spirited performances of the book at the dinner table with company. It’s a very good indication indeed when a book begs to be performed. I hope the committee will see that here is a case where humor ought to be taken seriously!

  2. My 2nd grade students LOVED this book – had them howling with laughter. Love it!

  3. I love the thick paper stock in this one, and wish that Roaring Brook had decided to give Gravity and Viva Frida similar production values.

  4. It’s the humor and that delightful pacing that had me taking this one home to read aloud. That two full page turn entrance was what absolutely hooked me.

  5. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    MIne too–we start our Mock Caldecott discussion on Monday, and I can’t wait to hear them talk about this one.

  6. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    I am a nut about paper stock and am always happy with I meet someone who notices it. Yes, great thick paper is a plus.

  7. Robin Smith Robin Smith says:

    I start laughing just thinking about that tortoise.

  8. I was lucky enough to review this one for Nerdy last month. Having now read it six thousand twenty-two times to my Kid Sheriff-obsessed kindergartner, I keep noticing more and more of the artwork (I think I have the text memorized so that I can pay more attention to Lane’s work!) and how absolutely genius it is. Particularly, the facial expressions are priceless. I certainly hope the committee will discuss it.

  9. Oops, I meant Smith’s work, not Lane’s. I wish we were on a first name basis, but alas.

  10. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    The comments about paper stock sent me to the award criteria, where i could only find “…such other components might include the written text, the overall design of the book, etc.” I’m guessing that paper quality is part of “overall design,” but I’d love to hear any elucidation a person might want to make to that “etc.” Maybe it’s just my mood, but it seems dangerously vague.

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