Cardboard Cowboys

Publisher: Bloomsbury

It seems like hardly anyone can see 12-year-old Lenny as anything but way too heavy, which makes school a lonely place. His mum doesn’t seem to care, his dad is a long-distance lorry driver and often away, and as the story unfolds we find out the whereabouts of Lenny’s big brother. Life is hard but somehow Lenny tries his best not to get too down and to give things a positive spin.

When things get too tough, Lenny bunks off school to sit and think alone on a bench in the woods. Then one day he meets Bruce, a homeless man who lives in a cardboard shelter by the banks of the canal and they strike up an unusual friendship that leads both of their lives to change for the better.

Brian Conaghan is well known for his fabulous books for older teenagers, including When Mr Dog Bites and The Bombs That Brought Us Together – and this is his first book for younger children. The content of the book is suitable for a 10-year-old, but the sophistication of the writing makes it mainly more suited for 12 plus unless children are advanced readers.

The quality of the writing is absolutely spellbinding and this book has the feeling of a modern day classic. It’s the kind of story that you read and immediately want to read again as you miss the characters so much. Lenny’s struggle with his body image is tremendously sad and poignant in parts, not least the way he’s internalised the bullying he receives about his size. Despite that, Cardboard Cowboys is an uplifting read that celebrates the power of friendship and will help readers think deeply about other people in their lives, their schools and community, building empathy along the way.

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