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Arizona Charlie and the Klondike Kid

by Julie Lawson, Kasia Charko, illus.

To young Ben, the newspaperman and Wild West celebrity Arizona Charlie embodies all that makes 1899 Dawson City exciting. Enthralled by his hero, Ben spends his mornings watching the “King of the Cowboys” practice his lasso tricks and sharp-shooting, and spends his afternoons teaching himself these same skills. One day Arizona Charlie invites Ben to help him in his act at the Grand Palace Theater, starring as “The Klondike Kid.” But when Ben’s big moment comes, his nerve fails and he runs from the stage, defeated and embarrassed. His humiliation, however, does not last long. Using his lasso skills, Ben captures a fleeing robber in the street and earns the cheers and admiration of the whole town, led by Arizona Charlie.

A simple story that will appeal to audiences aged 4 to 7, Arizona Charlie and the Klondike Kid is the latest historical picture book from Victoria writer Julie Lawson. Lawson uses her talent for marrying history with fiction to create a story that kids from any era will appreciate: Ben’s dreams of fame and his devastation at failing in front of his hero and community are timeless experiences. In his cavalier treatment of Ben, Arizona Charlie also provides a good object lesson about the pitfalls of making heroes out of ordinary people, though he does redeem himself by the story’s end. Ontario illustrator Kasio Charko’s drawings nicely complement Lawson’s narrative, and children who like to pore over illustrations will be well rewarded by Charko’s attention to the small details of everyday life in the Gold Rush. Her final picture, an image of Ben reading Arizona Charlie’s laudatory newspaper story about him, adds a satisfying coda to this gentle tale.