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Middle School Monday: Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri

MSM11Last week, I wrote about the books on the top of my TBR pile of dreams. All were published in late 2016 or early 2017. Except one. Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri (Candlewick Press) came out in 2011.

Honestly, these are my favorite titles to be on my TBR lists, because it feels like I’m correcting a mistake I made. Reading a book that somehow I missed when it first came out. [Of course, I wasn’t a librarian in 2011, so I have A LOT of titles to catch up on!]


I read Ghetto Cowboy yesterday and I loved it. Books, just like movies, can have an IT factor, a hard-to-describe feeling when everything just clicks. The characters feel real, the momentum is building, and you feel invested in where the story is going. It’s that feeling when you are PULLING for the main character and feel safe enough in the author’s hands that you know your character is going to get there. Ghetto Cowboy has that magic.

From G. Neri’s website:

The Story         

Suddenly, something big and white bumps up against the car and I jump. I think I must be dreamin’ ’cause I just saw a horse run by.

When Cole’s mom dumps him in mean streets of Philly to live with the dad he’s never met, the last thing Cole expects to see is a horse—let alone a stable full of them. He may not know much about cowboys, but what he knows for sure is that cowboys ain’t black and they don’t live in the inner city! But on Chester Avenue, horses are a way of life, and soon Cole’s days of goofing off and skipping school in Detroit have been replaced by shoveling muck and trying not to get stomped on.

Crazy as it may seem, the lifestyle grows on Cole, and he starts to think that maybe life as a ghetto cowboy isn’t so bad. But when the City threatens to shut down the stables—and take away the horse that Cole has come to think of as his own—he knows that he has to fight back.

Inspired by the real-life inner-city horsemen of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, Ghetto Cowboy is an timeless urban western about learning to stand up for what’s right—the Cowboy Way.

The original SLJ review can be found here. A comprehensive page on the novel can be found on G. Neri’s own site.

I can’t wait to share this one with my students. Here is what I’m thinking…

We’ll read G. Neri’s thoughts on the novel. His writing on the background of Ghetto Cowboy starts with a powerful introduction: “I’ve always said truth is stranger than fiction, but fiction can sometimes dig into that truth a bit more clearly. That’s why I write fiction inspired by real life.”

If you’re someone that likes to start a novel study with a book trailer, find a solid teaser trailer of the novel here.

While reading the novel with classes, we’ll supplement with the audio version of the book. [I see it won the 2012 School Library Journal Best Audio for Middle School Award.]

There is an EXCELLENT Teacher’s Guide for the novel from Candlewick Press. When I saw the author of the guide was Edith Campbell, I was thrilled! [If you’re not following the essential https://campbele.wordpress.com/ for literature reviews and resources, please do. it’s a must follow for school librarians!]

street riders

We can pair the novel with other sources, including watching This American Life: Horses in North Philly and information on the original LIFE article that inspired G. Neri.

I love sharing what authors say about their writing with students, especially when they say things like: “Even the greatest writers I know admit their first drafts suck.” G. Neri says this and much more at Beginning the Journey to a Finished Novel.

In addition to the many awards Ghetto Cowboy has won, it was also the 2012 Horace Mann Upstanders Book Award Winner. [G. Neri is in extremely good company. Past winners include Nikki Grimes’ Almost Zero, Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy, and Sharon Draper’s Stella by Starlight.]

I’m planning on using this novel with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I recommend it as a whole class text or as a literature circle choice. [The paperback is currently $6.99 on Amazon and only $4.55 via Follett.] I’m excited to get started!

I’m Julie Stivers at @BespokeLib and am telling you that Ghetto Cowboy is a WINNER. What books have you recently read that were WINNERS? I’d love to hear about them!

Have a great week!

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