I was so taken with Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's article Mind the Gaps in The Horn Book last winter that I went on to read her book Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. Like Nelson, I grew up watching westerns, so I had noticed a review for this book when it was released in 2009.
Bad News for Outlaws is a fantastic book. It's marketed to grades 3 to 6, so expect more text than in a traditional picture book. It is fascinating text, well-constructed as Bass Reeves' life story. The Reeves' story is told within the context of his world, as well. Just what was the deal with the so-called Indian Territory, anyway? And what were the deputy marshalls vs. any other kind of lawman out in the west? Additionally, Nelson uses some great stories about Reeves' activities as a marshal to illustrate what was so interesting about him. And she subtly throws in language from Reeves' era.
In addition to the great writing, this is a beautiful looking book, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. The design of many of the pages calls to mind old books or maybe wanted posters. The back material is some of the best and most inviting I can recall seeing.
Because Bass Reeves was an African American, I imagine Bad News for Outlaws being displayed prominently in libraries during Black History Month. But this is a book that could be used for so much more. It could support history units because it is so good on the time period when Reeves' lived. It could be used to support a writing unit with the the stories Nelson uses about Reeves lives illustrating use of detail in writing. Oh, and the book also illustrates using an opening hook.
I learned from this book. I was left wondering about one thing, though. Was poor pretty Jennie Reeves left raising Bass's eleven children on her own while he was off taming the Wild West? But then I wonder about that with many books about men from the past.