by Terri Schlichenmeyer
For New Pittsburgh Courier
Summer is coming, and that means a summer job. But what can a kid like you do?
You’re so past the Kool-Aid stand age. Babysitting only goes as far as next weekend, which isn’t enough. And your mother’s chore list, well, ’nuff said.
Why not find a job doing something you like and then figure out how to get paid for it? Nat Love, for instance, enjoyed nothing more than being on the back of a horse, so when he found a job on a ranch, he snagged it. But in the new book “Best Shot in the West” by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack Jr., illustrated by Randy DuBurke, that wasn’t Nat’s main claim to fame.
Born in a log cabin on a plantation in Tennessee, Nat Love was the youngest child of slaves. His mother ran the kitchen and made clothes for others on the plantation, while his father was a slave foreman. Young Nat grew up “unsupervised” and remembered making raids to the garden to satisfy his hunger.
Nat was 7-years-old when the Civil War broke out and his owner, Robert Love, took Nat’s father away to help build forts. When they returned, Love didn’t tell his slaves that they were free. It was quite awhile before they found out.
Right after that, times got tough. Nat’s father died, followed by Nat’s sister. In order to help care for the family, Nat found jobs here and there, mostly working as a cowboy. He learned that he was really good at breaking colts and was paid 10 cents for each dangerous ride.
When he was almost 15, Nat gave his mother half his savings, and left home. He walked some and rode some, landed in Dodge City (which was “too much”), and kept going until he found work as a cowpuncher.
The other cowboys soon came to respect Nat, even giving him a nickname of his own. “Deadeye Dick” became a trailboss, and he was known as one of the best shooters, ropers, and wranglers in the West.
But then cowboying changed, and so did Nat Love. He’d lived a “charmed life” for twenty years and he was getting older.
Maybe it was time for different dusty trail…
In this age of video games and sports heroes, it’s the rare kid these days who wants to grow up to be a cowpoke. “Best Shot in the West” might change all that.
Based on a biography written by Nat Love himself, authors Patricia McKissack and Fredrick McKissack Jr. bring to kids the kind of story that will ignite their imaginations with tales of the Wild West. What’s also great about this book is that it’s written in comic-book form, which is kid-friendly, and the artwork by Randy DuBurke ropes in even the most reluctant reader.
While an older teen might appreciate this book as a quick introduction to Love’s life, this book is really more for kids ages 8-13. For them, “Best Shot in the West” is one rootin’ tootin’ read.
(“Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love” by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr., illustrated by Randy DuBurke, c.2012, Chronicle Books, $19.99/$22.99 Canada, 133 pages.)