McKissack, Patricia C. and Frederick L. McKissack, Jr. Illustrated by Randay Duburke. Best Shot in the West: The Story of Nat Love.
ARC from Baker and Taylor: Pictures in black and white.
This graphic novel follows the rise of Nat Love, who was born into a life of slavery and poverty in 1954 but managed to become a well-regarded cowboy and sharpshooter better known as Deadwood Dick. After the Civil War, Nat’s family tried to farm until sickness took several family members and made it necessary for Nat to seek employment to support his nieces. He became a cowboy, breaking horses that others couldn’t and delivering horses and cattle across the plains. He braved stampedes, outlaws, and capture by an Native Americans, who were so impressed with his abilities that they wanted him to stay and marry one of their own. Eventually, Nat ended up as a train porter, but wrote his memoir in the early 1900s.
Strengths: The story and print were very clear and easy to follow. I didn’t know anything about Love but was able to follow the story. This is a very enjoyable book to use to introduce students to the Wild West.
Weaknesses: This is a dramatization of what Nat Love claimed his life was like; the McKissack’s point this out, but students may not understand that this is not necessarily what really happened. Doesn’t get in the way of a good story, though!
Lawrence, Caroline. The Case of the Deadly Desperado.
P.K. Pinkerton, who is half Native American, sees his foster parents killed in a small western town in 1862. The criminals are masquerading as Indians, but are in fact the deadly outlaw Whittlin’ Walt and his partners who are looking for a deed that P.K. got from his birth parents. P.K. manages to escape to the next town, where he encounters Belle, an “actress”, who helps him escape Walt but steals the deed. Assisted by a Chinese laundry boy, Ping, and two newspaper reporters, P.K. manages to elude Walt even though he keeps running into him. When he finds out that the deed may be to a huge holding that will get him a lot of money, P.K. tries to get the deed back from Belle and take it to the proper authorities… without getting himself killed by Walt or anyone else in the lawless country. Virginia City is a place where it’s every man… and boy… for himself, but P.K. manages to use his smarts to survive and prosper.
Strengths: Lots of action and adventure with a strong dash of humor makes this a book about the wild west that will be easy for students to pick up. I have a lot of older titles on this period of history but haven’t seen anything for a long time. Fans of Paulsen’s Mr. Tucket series will adore this one. Fans of Lawrence’s Thieves of Ostia should pick this up for a window into a completely different world.
Weaknesses: This felt politically incorrect from time to time, but the world was not politically correct in 1862! I also didn’t understand why P.K. was portrayed as being unable to read people’s moods and emotions, which came up multiple times.
Perhaps if these books introduce students to the Wild West, someone will pick up Jack Schaefer's Shane. I did weed the Louis L'Amour novel I had because it smelled bad and no one had read that, but I hold on to Shane for reasons I can't even explain.