Editor's note: "The Nighthawk’s Harmonica: A Montana Roundup Story" is a finalist in the Children's Book category of the 2021 High Plains Book Awards.
Long nights on the wild Montana prairies can be lonely for the Nighthawk, the youngest cowboy charged with keeping horses calm during a roundup. But fourteen-year-old Will holds a gift in his hands – a harmonica his grandmother brought from Germany. Author Marcia Melton tells his tale in “The Nighthawk’s Harmonica: A Montana Roundup Story,” a High Plains Book Awards finalist in the Children’s Book category.
Sitting atop his horse, Will keeps watch during the midnight hours. Staying alert for danger while making lazy circles around the animals, the Nighthawk plays his harmonica. Sounds drift across the star-filled sky, calming skittish horses.
At daybreak, Will heads back to camp to help Cookie, the cook, make breakfast for the whole crew. As the Nighthawk, Will can only catch up on sleep when he finishes his chores. His routine rarely changes. Until one night, he dozes off, only to wake up to the breaking of dawn.
Hurrying back to camp to help with the morning meal, Will reaches into a pocket to feel his harmonica—only it’s not there. Meanwhile, Cookie looks none too pleased and makes his displeasure known to the young cowboy. But Will, too distraught to care, blurts out, “I lost my harmonica!”
To the Nighthawk’s surprise, the cranky cook orders him to go look for it. Will mounts his horse to search for his treasured keepsake. As the sun begins to lighten the sky, he doubts he can find the harmonica. Then a glint of silver catches his eye. Could it be?
In “The Nighthawk’s Harmonica: A Montana Roundup Story,” Melton’s masterful storytelling brings to life a character from her own heritage, Grandfather Wilbur, a Nighthawk during the early 1900s. With an informative back section about The Great Montana Centennial Cattle Drive of 1989 and artist Mia DeLode’s beautifully haunting illustrations, readers will find themselves high in the saddle surrounded with horses and the melancholy sounds of a harmonica filling the midnight Montana sky.
Find out more about Penelope Kaye, author of the award-winning book “Making Crooked Places Straight” at her website, https://ps2710.com/.