Monday, April 2, 2012

Review: Best Shot in the West by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr.

Nat Love, or “Deadwood Dick,” was among the greatest cowboys who ever lived. Daring and dangerous when he needed to be, Nat was a natural at breaking broncs and shooting straight. A freed slave from Tennessee, Nat journeyed west to find work that rewarded his abilities.

A graphic novel, Best Shot in the West, is a dramatized version of Nat’s story mostly adapted from his autobiography. Is this fiction or nonfiction? Nat was a real cowboy. But the author’s note explains they dramatized certain scenes for the sake of the story’s flow. The inside cover describes the book as historical fiction while the Library of Congress subject heading inside says “Biography.” My library has it under Biography as well. It may be that the availability of factual materials on Nat and legends and myths about him make it difficult to create a totally factual story of Nat’s life. Ultimately, I am unsure but still enjoyed the story.

Like comic books, the story and illustrations are broken into panels with speech bubbles and blocks. Illustrator DuBurke’s paintings are muted but dramatically portray cattle stampedes and shootouts. The backgrounds are colorful while people and objects in the foreground are greyish. It’s an interesting technique but sometimes I wanted a clearer picture of people’s faces.

So, we all know that Hollywood tends to skew reality and Wild West films are no exception. But the exact ways that movies skew things may allude us...we know things are inaccurate but we’re not sure how exactly. This is the second book I’ve read about men from the Wild West and they were both African American and had amazing life stories, legends of their time, and  worthy of movies of their own. I would totally watch a movie about Nat Love. While reasons for Indian/Cowboy conflict are alluded to, especially when Nat is captured by an unusual tribe, adults may need to point out the complexities of why Indians conducted raids and why they captured Nat (instead of killing him) as the story is focused only on Nat’s perspective as a loyal cowboy.

Best Shot in the West is a story for kids interested in cowboys, horses, outlaws and crack shots. I recommend this story since it provides an important perspective on what it took to be a cowboy and what type of people cowboys were. This book counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!

Publisher: Chronicle Books, 2012     Pages: 133     
Full Title: Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love
Illustrator: Randy DuBurke
Rating: 3.5 Stars     Source: Public Library