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Best-selling Hank Author Visits at PHC (Nov. 18, 2009)

 Who is John R. Erickson?

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John R. Erickson, a former cowboy and ranch manager, is gifted with a storyteller's knack for spinning a yarn. Through the eyes of Hank the Cowdog, a smelly, smart-aleck Head of Ranch Security, Erickson gives readers a glimpse of daily life on a ranch in the West Texas Panhandle. This series of books and tapes is in school libraries across the country, has sold more than 6 million copies, is a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, and is the winner of the 1993 Audio for Outstanding Children's Series from the Audio Publisher's Association. Publishers Weekly calls Hank a "grassroots publishing phenomena," and USA Today says this is "the best family entertainment in years."

The road to stardom for Hank, however, wasn't all dog biscuits and gravy. Erickson graduated from the University of Texas in 1966 and studied for two years at Harvard Divinity School. He began to publish short stories in 1967 while working full-time as a cowboy, farmhand, and ranch manager in Texas and Oklahoma. Hank and his sidekick Drover are dogs Erickson worked with on the range. This mixture of true-life experience, fun, and adventure has gained Hank a loyal following of thousands of children and adults.

In 1982, however, Erickson was at his rope's end. "I was working out in the cold; there was 8 inches of snow on the ground," he says, "I had just gotten a couple of rejection slips from New York publishers, and I had a wife with two kids and another one on the way." So, with $2,000 in borrowed money, Erickson started his own publishing company, appropriately named Maverick Books.

Hank the Cowdog made his debut in the pages of The Cattleman, a magazine for adults. An obvious favorite of readers, Erickson included two of Hank's humorous stories in Maverick Book's first publishing effort, The Devil in Texas (1982). Erickson began selling books from his pickup truck at cattle auctions, rodeos, and just about any place cowboys gathered.

When Erickson started getting "Dear Hank" letters, he knew he was onto something. So in 1983, 2,000 copies of The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog were published, and sold out in 6 weeks. Not long after that first printing, the book was recorded word-for-word on audiotape. Since then, every Hank book has been recorded, making Hank the longest-running successful children's series on audio ever. (Source: Billboard)

When teachers began inviting Erickson to their schools, Hank found his most eager fans. Teachers, librarians, and students alike love Hank. According to some Texas Library Association surveys, Hank the Cowdog books are the most popular selections in many libraries' children's sections. The lively characters make excellent material for reading and writing lessons, and turn even the most reluctant readers into avid Hank-a-holics. When used with the books, Hank tapes increase reading skills rapidly. In response to popular demand from the growing bilingual market, the first two Hank the Cowdog adventures are available in Spanish.

Erickson was born in Midland, Texas. By the age of 3, he had moved with his family to Perryton, Texas, where he lives today with his wife, their youngest son, and a dog named Sophie, on their very own ranch. His advice to young writers is, "Write about something you know. Try to leave your readers better off than they were before."

Mr. Erickson joined then Texas Governor George W. Bush at Govalle Elementary in Austin, Texas, to celebrate the Governor's Reading Initiative program. The governor joined the crowd of students and teachers to hear Erickson read from Hank's adventures, strum on his banjo, and sing some cool cowdog tunes. The goal of the Governor's Reading Initiative is: "All students will read on grade level by the end of grade 3 and will continue to read on grade level, throughout their schooling." Governor Bush said, "Reading is to the mind what food is to the body. Nothing is more basic or more essential. And in this administration nothing is going to take a higher priority."

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