Black Heroes of the Wild West: Featuring Stagecoach Mary, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons
A TOON Graphic
by James Otis Smith
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 15 Sep 2020 | Archive Date 16 Mar 2021
Myrick Marketing & Media, LLC, TOON Graphics
NYPL'S TOP 10 BOOKS FOR KIDS
Exploring American history and finding diversity at its roots!
This graphic novel by JAMES OTIS SMITH celebrates the extraordinary true tales of three black heroes who took control of their destinies and stood up for their communities in the Old West. Born into slavery in Tennessee, Mary Fields became famous as “Stagecoach Mary,” a cigar-chomping, card playing coach driver who never missed a delivery. Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy US Marshal west of the Mississippi, was one of the wiliest lawmen in the territories, bringing thousands of outlaws to justice with his smarts. Bob Lemmons lived to be 99 years old and was so good with horses that the wild mustangs on the plains of Texas took him for one of their own.
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection
From the introduction by KADIR NELSON, winner of the 2020 Caldecott Award: “Black Heroes of the Wild West is a brilliant and entertaining offering. Through sharp and evocative storytelling in the exciting medium of comics, lesser-known African American historical figures will be introduced to new generations of readers.”
A Note From the Publisher
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Average rating from 50 members
This book was so fun and so educational. The author sets out to describe the diversity that existed in America’s history. The art work and historical photos was great. It was easy to read yet was packed with information. I feel like I sat through a history class. I first heard about this through Brenna on the What Should I Read Next podcast/Patreon group. I am so glad she recommended this. I will be handing this off to my children to read and have passed it and the wonderful book list at the end to a teacher friend. Thank you to Netgalley and Myrick Marketing/TOON Graphics for this free copy in exchange for my honest review.
Devoured this book. It's everything a history book should be: fascinating, adventurous, informative. James Otis Taylor's graphic novel is engaging and sure to be loved by students. Plus, there's Kadir Nelson portraiture and primary source photos featuring Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the west during Reconstruction.
Goodreads Rating: 4 stars NetGalley Rating: 5 stars Western history has always fascinated me, but it has always struck me how difficult it is to find books (fiction or nonfiction) about minorities of any sort, especially black people, who lived in the Western frontier. This provides a great, if short, introduction to three black pioneers who went West and made a name for themselves delivering mail and building missions, hunting fugitives, and herding wild horses. I had heard about Mary Fields briefly before from a friend, but I still learned some more facts about her from this books. Bob Lemmon and Bass Reeves I had never heard of before though, so this was a very enlightening introduction to them! There is also a brief historical section in the back with some great pictures. This was much shorter than I expected it to be and I feel like the content of each biography could have gone deeper or wider, whether in the story telling, the historical, or both. Smith blends the historical facts with a vignette about each person’s life very smoothly and creates a very engaging setting, so I would love to have been able to read more! Despite the short length, this is an excellent jumping off point for readers to learn that not all Wild West history is white, and that blacks played a vital role in helping to shape the new frontier.
Nelson’s introduction rounds up an “average” American’s understanding of cowboys and the wild west, then gently unpacks how it got to be that way. At the conclusion, Smith pulls us into a scene of Mary Fields fighting off wolves in the dead of night, thirty degrees below zero, with mostly a torch and a knife. She was in her mid-60s. The remainder of the book follows this rhythm of excitement, grounded text, excitement, grounded text as it highlights a handful of Black icons from the brief period between emancipation and Jim Crow. It’s not so dramatized it feels like a History Channel documentary, but still succeeds in depicting these remarkable, exciting figures in remarkable, exciting ways. While it’s appropriately frank at points (i.e. the Catholic Missions being established primarily to displace and assimilate indigenous populations), it still succeeds as a brief but treasured moment to celebrate Black Americans as pioneers, inventors, and builders. Whereas a lot of media set in the Wild West tends to over-rely on dirt and grit to sell the scene, Smith avoids this temptation, instead using thick, expressive brushwork to capture crisp gestures and facial expressions. The cartoony approach feels bright and airy, perfect to not overwhelm the occasional paragraph or so of diegesis—or a middle-grade-and-up audience that might not dig the more “house-style” approach of mainstream comics. Francois Mouly's book design carries this through with generous images and negative space later on. Frank Reynoso's color deserves a spotlight, as well. Again, while most other stories around this topic are overwhelmingly brown, Smith pops in with powder blues, lavenders, rusty oranges, and the occasional rosy pink to round out his no-nonsense palettes. Some scenes are warm, some are cool, some sunlit, some at sunset—each vignette being framed in specific tones and times of day to make them feel distinct and real. Smith’s pacing as a writer is top-notch, and at the end of his responsibilities in the book, I was left so hungry for more that I wish it was three times longer. Thankfully, the book is endcapped with several pages of informative text with photos peppered in from libraries, universities, and private collections. It touches back on Nelson’s point about erasure—how entire races were left out from a culture they helped establish—so readers can compare that to current patterns in their communities. It’s framed easily enough for a young audience, but serves as a non-judgmental 101 for adult readers who may not have been exposed to these ideas before. At the end of it all is a section of eleven or so resources for further reading on the topic. Which is great, honestly—you’ll be wanting to learn more, I promise.
Love the actual photographs used in the end papers and the back matter. Stories are interesting and cover lesser-known people. Wish the print was a little bigger on the back matter but there is so much I guess it had to be small to fit it all in. Would love to see more people's stories told in this manner.