Wednesday, October 1, 2008

African American: Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story

Lester, Julius. 1998. Black Cowboy, Wild Horses: A True Story. Illus. by Jerry Pinkney. NY: Dial Books. ISBN: 0803717873.

Bob Lemmons, a former slave now cowboy on a ranch, has the special ability to track animals. He will follow the animals. On the hunt for wild horses, Bob and his black stallion Warrior follow the horse tracks for days until he is finally accepted as one of their own and is able to become leader of the herd and brings them back to the corrals at the ranch.

Through the well crafted Black Cowboy, Wild Horse: A True Story author Julius Lester and illustrator Jerry Pinkney have introduced young readers to one of the Old West’s legendary cowboy Bob Lemmons and his ability to become a horse in order to corral the wild horses on the western plains. Lester’s text is poetically rich and full of metaphors that describe the scenery of the open plains that Lemmons travels through as he follows the mustangs, “The sky was curved as if it were a lap on which the earth lay napping like a curled cat” (p. 2) as well as the cool patience that Lemmons exude as he calmly follows the horses. The narrative is also full of action, which is especially seen when Lemmons and his horse Warrior fight the stallion leader of the wild horses. Not only does Lester tell the story in action but also the personal descriptions of both the human and animal characters in the story.

Pinkney’s illustrations both compliments and visually continues telling the story of Bob Lemmons. In double-page spreads the illustrations fills the book with wonderfully detailed watercolors. The depictions of the horses and the plains are beautifully accurate. In particular the part when Lemmons has become the leader of the herd and is now the “sky and plains and grass and river and horse” and the illustrations shows the wild horses following the cowboy across the plains and in the sky are billowing clouds that have the faint images of wild horses. Pickney’s artwork also presents the readers with various points of views in order to truly show the beauty of the horses in movement and the land that Lemmons roamed.

Though this book is about an African American cowboy that is known in America’s Wild West history, there is a very limited number of cultural markers present in the entire book. The only mention of the African American culture is when the narrative explains that “Bob had been a slave and never learned to read words” (p.5). The illustrations are the only other cultural marker that presents a depiction of Lemmons with chocolate brown skin and short curly hair. Though this could be considered a weakness in the book one must take into consideration that story is not about Lemmons himself but how he became one of the wild horses in order to bring them back to the ranch were he worked.

With the combination of Lester’s detailed and poetic narrative and Pinkey’s beautifully detailed and executed illustrations readers are able to catch a glimpse into the life of a legendary cowboy from America’s history.

Ages 5^-9. One of every three cowboys who helped tame the Wild West was either Mexican or black. This is the true story of one of the latter, Bob Lemmons. In language rich with simile and metaphor, Lester's account focuses on the former slave's uncanny tracking abilities as he trails a herd of mustangs as well as his mission to tame the wild horses and lead them back to the corral. Pinkney's earth-colored gouache and watercolor paintings add the look of the Texas plains to Lester's account and capture the energy of the horses as they gallop across sweeping, double-page spreads. Lester and Pinkney's manifest love and respect for the West and cowboys of color, whose contributions have been too long overlooked, distinguish their latest collaboration. Michael Cart

Grade 2-4APinkney and Lester add a picture-book chapter to the lore of this nation's "true West" with the retelling of a story of a wild horse hunt by the black cowboy Bob Lemmons. He and his stallion, Warrior, wander on the prairie until they find the tracks of the animals they seek. Bob then spends days in a very slow approach to the herd. Horse and rider finally join the herd and are accepted by the wild horses, until at last Bob challenges the lead stallion for control. On Warrior's back, he fights the stallion, defeats him, and then leads the animals into captivity in the ranch corral. Throughout, both text and pictures emphasize the blending of all life. The linkages between the cowboy, the animals, and the natural world are so strong that lines separating them are blurred. Lester and Pinkney's stated aims were to recast their childhood love of cowboys and the Old West with more recent historical research into the contributions of men of color, both black and Hispanic. They have done that, and achieved something else as well: youngsters will reflect on the relationships between humans and other animals. Pinkney's pictures were never better, making it all the more unfortunate that text boxes cover some of the action. Lester's overuse of metaphor is also a drawback. Still, this book will inspire heavy-duty thinking on the part of young readers.ARuth Semrau, formerly at Lovejoy School, Allen, TX Copyright 1998

CONNECTIONS *Read more about African American cowboys with books like Bill Picket: Rodeo-Ridin’ Cowboy by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illus. by Brian Pinkey.
*Read more books by Julius Lester: John Henry (illus. by Jerry Pinkney) and Sam and the Tigers: A Retelling of ‘Little Black Sambo (illus. by Jerry Pinkney).
*Read more books illustrated by Jerry Pinkney: The Patchwork Quilt (written by Valerie Flournoy) and The Talking Eggs (written by Robert D. San Souci)

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