Monday, April 21, 2014

Cowboy Puzzles

If you appreciate 20th century Western Americana, children's literature, and/or horses, you might enjoy reading more about the creators of the illustrations for a set of jigsaw puzzles I found the other day at an estate sale.

The puzzles featured images I thought I recognized...but I wasn't sure where I'd seen them before.  
The cover of the box of puzzles showed one of the images:

I was intrigued by the picture on the box cover.  The clarity of the lines, the vibrant colors -- it looked like Western artist Maynard Dixon had been asked to illustrate a Dick and Jane book.  But no -- it was signed "The Hollings."

The jigsaw puzzles inside reproduced the color images from a popular 1930s children's book, The Book of Cowboys, by Holling C. Holling:

Illustration from The Book of Cowboys, by The Hollings:
"The horse made some wild lunges, turned and twisted in midair
and came down hard on its feet, but Gunshot stuck to the finish."

Jigsaw puzzle version of the same image

"These Mexicans were the first cowboys.  They were called vaqueros."

The pictures are signed "The Hollings" so I knew there had to be more than one of them.  That too was intriguing, so I started doing some online research.

Holling Clancy Holling (1900-1973) and his wife Lucille Holling (1900-1989) collaborated on a number of illustrated children's books in the 1930s and 1940s.  A blog devoted to Holling C. Holling says he  “was best known for his geo-historical-fiction volumes for children, [and] believed that children’s literature should be both entertaining and instructive and therefore filled his adventuresome tales with well-researched historical and scientific data.”

Holling's The Book of Indians (1935) and The Book of Cowboys (1936 -- the source of the images on the jigsaw puzzles) were, according to The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators, were "immensely popular," as were many of his other works.  

One of Holling C. Holling's most famous books was Paddle-to-the-Sea.  The story line and illustrations are also a travel route.  An Indian boy north of Lake Superior carves a wooden canoe with a figure inside, bearing the words, "Please put me back in the water."   The canoe makes its way through the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence River to the Atlantic Ocean.  

Paddle-to-the-Sea was one of several books that won a Caldecott Honor in 1942, for excellence in children's book illustration, or as the Caldecott website puts it, a "distinguished American Picture Book for Children" by a citizen or resident of the United States.  (That same year, Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings won the main Caldecott Award.)  Other books by Holling C. Holling, Seabird (1948) and Minn of the Mississippi (1951), were Newbery Honor books.  

I couldn't find a complete online version of The Book of Cowboys, but you can read a preview of it here:

"The children rounded the last hill and sighted the cow camp."

You can read all of Paddle-to-the-Sea online here:

Here are links to some resources on the Hollings:

Here's information about the Caldecott Award:


  1. Thanks! My mother found these puzzles in a closet. We think they were my father's. It is nice to have some background.

  2. Thanks! My mother found these puzzles in a closet. We think they were my father's. It is nice to have some background.