Narrative poems, expository writings and the voice of a lively announcer combine to introduce a sport largely unknown outside of the West: the rodeo.
To many, a rodeo can seem frightening and even cruel. Flood, however, shares the excitement, athleticism and tradition of it all. From the morning, as the arena is set up at sunrise, until night falls and the dust settles, readers are taken on a journey through every rodeo event. The youngest compete in the “woolly rider” category: They sit atop a sheep and hold on for as long as they can. There is also roping, barrel racing, bucking broncos and, of course, riding the big Brahma bull. There is no denying the power of these animals—“hooves scraping dirt, / blocks of muscle / waiting to explode / out the chute”—nor of the riders: “I lean, lean, lean, / get positioned just right, / then split-second leap / on top his shoulders, / hold on to his horns, / crank his neck around / to twist him / down.” Sonnenmair’s quick-snapped action shots show simultaneous struggle and determination on every competitor’s face. Though Flood asserts the importance of the rodeo in Navajo culture, aside from the competitors’ faces (which are worth the price of admission), there is little here to differentiate this rodeo from others.
Whether or not readers are swayed by Flood’s enthusiasm for the sport, there is one universal lesson in the rodeo: Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep trying. Cowboy up! (afterword, resources) (Nonfiction. 8-12)