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Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

Back a few months ago, a publicist with Lerner Publishing Group (Carolrhoda Books) contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in reviewing a couple of books written by African American authors for Black History month.  I was intrigued by the titles, so I agreed.  Well, here it is almost the end of February, and I’m just now getting around to it.  Let me tell you, though, that this particular book is worth the wait.  In fact, Bad News for Outlaws:  The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson won the Coretta Scott King Author Award this year.  If I had just been a little quicker, I could’ve been one of those who said “I read it first!”  🙂

This episodic biographical picture book details the life of one Bass Reeves, a legendary lawman who, by the time the Indian Territory became the state of Oklahoma, had arrested some 3,000 lawbreakers, in the process taking the lives of only fourteen people.  In the wild and lawless West, this was remarkable.  The picture of Bass Reeves that Nelson paints with her words is one of a genuinely good man, a hero even, who did his job with honor and integrity.  He even worked toward rehabilitating the outlaws he apprehended by talking to them about the Bible and about doing right.  He would also stop at nothing to “get his man,” even assuming different personas to catch the ne’er-do-wells. 

This book is chock full of historical detail, and it contains all sorts of additional information in the back:  a glossary of Western terms, a timeline, bibliographies and website lists for futher reading, short sketches about some of hte historical figures and regions mentioned in the book, and even an interesting note from the author about how she came to know about this little known African American hero.  I like what she said at the close of her note:  “Bass’s story is so incredible it comes close to sounding like a tall tale.  But it isn’t.  It’s true.  And I’ve done my best to tell it true.”  I like that–I thought some of the story read like a tall tale, and it’s amazing to learn that Bass Reeves’ exploits did in fact happen.

R. Gregory Christie, three time recipient of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award,  is the illustrator whose work fleshes out the story for us.  The illustrations really evoke the feeling of the Old West.  You can see an example illustration from Bad News for Outlaws here, or visit R. Gregory Christie’s website to gain an even broader appreciation of his artwork. 

Although I have not shared this book with my children yet, I am excited to add this one to our collection.  As regular Hope Is the Word readers know, my girls are interested in “pioneery” things (to borrow the terminology of my old boss, the librarian at the public library where I worked while in undergraduate school), so I think this one will be a winner with them when they’re old enough to understand some of the lawlessness and the violence that marked the Old West.   I think this book would be appropriate from grades four through high school.  (I’m an adult, and I really liked it.  It made me want to know more about Bass Reeves!)  What’s more, Carolrhoda Books has created several different resources for use with this book that would really help to broaden the study into something meaty. 

I give this one a Highly Recommended! 

I received no compensation, other than a free copy of the book, for writing this review.


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