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Review: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up by Kate DiCamillo

Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (Tales from Deckawoo Drive, Volume One)
By Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Candlewick Press

ISBN: 9780763663391
Grades 2-4
Out August 26, 2014

*Best New Book*

Find it at:
Schuler Books | Your Library

Bringing the band back together can be a dicey proposition. While you may think you want a spin-off or a sequel, it often turns out that those role players or that side story just ain’t that interesting when given center stage. Here? Not a problem. With Leroy Ninker Saddles Up (kudos for the exclamation point restraint), Kate DiCamillo begins a series that will feature the cast of memorable characters from the Mercy Watson universe. Similar to that modern classic series, this spin-off is unabashedly smile-inducing.

Leroy is a small man with a big dream – to be a real cowboy like he sees in the movies. He has the hat, the lasso, the big belt buckle – everything except a trusty steed. Enter Maybelline, a old mare with some unusual quirks that lead to trouble. But that doesn’t discourage Leroy. He’s aiming to ride off into the sunset a real cowboy at last.

In his recent CBS Sunday Morning interview, Mo Willems says (and I paraphrase) his job is to make 49 percent of a book and have his readers fill in the rest. How the audience interacts with a book is of great importance. Similar to Willems, one of the big secrets of DiCamillo’s success is that she writes books that are fun to read aloud. Leroy Ninker Saddles Up follows suit. The snappy pacing, humor, word choice, and dialog all coalesce into something that will work well with a crowd.

It’s worth noting that the reading level for this new series is higher here than that of Mercy Watson. It’s perfect for students who read Mercy last year and are ready for the challenge. It might prove tricky however (as a teacher recently told me) for students looking for an immediate Mercy Watson read-alike.

Van Dusen’s illustrations are as bright and expressive as ever, even as they take on a slightly reduced role in this new series. Whereas Mercy Watson featured color artwork on every page, smaller black and white spot illustrations and one-page spreads are the dominant format for Leroy Ninker (save for a handful of two-pagers). At every turn, Van Dusen injects humor into the story. For instance, the illustration of Leroy desperately trying to push Maybelline through the door of his tiny apartment puts the cherry on top of an already funny moment.

Does this book need more shine? Nah, not really. A new book by Kate DiCamillo is a sight-unseen purchase for libraries.  But when a book makes me smile this much, I can’t help but share. Carry on with your sight-unseen purchase. How great that we get a whole series worth of this?

Review copy from the publisher.

Read my interview with Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen about this new series.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. I always wanted more Mercy Watson!

    • Travis Jonker says

      Your wish is fulfilled. Aside from more text and fewer illustrations, if you love Mercy Watson, you will love this book

  2. Great review – completely agree! (much needed exclamation mark placed here.)

    • Travis Jonker says

      Thanks, Jennifer – not going out on a limb or anything, but it’s such fun to read!

  3. Niki Barnes says

    I think I will read this book aloud next year! It is smile inducing! :)