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Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

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Pretty Deadly, vol. 1: The Shrike by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios (ill.). (2014) Image Comics: ISBN: 9781607069621

Annotation: Young Sissy, the girl who wears a vulture’s skin, and blind Fox travel through the Western frontier making their living telling the story of Ginny, Death’s daughter, who rides the world doling out vengeance.

Reaction: I’m not sure why I never put two and two together before this, but, dang, do I love a graphic novel Western. Like, love. Adore. Wanna read them all. I love seeing different artists’ interpretations of my native land (I’m a desert girl, through and through), I love reading how authors incorporate the history and legends of a place into a new creation, and I absolutely adore cowboy iconography. Give me a good cowboy character in a story, and you pretty much have me, hook, line and sinker. So for that alone, this book was really going to appeal to me, and add in a woman writing team and a few kickass lady characters, and this book would have to actually legit suck for me to hate it. It doesn’t suck. I loved it. I wanted to eat it up and cuddle with it and linger over it.

I think DeConnick has written a really solid origin story with this volume, and I enjoyed the way Ginny’s mythology and Sissy’s life entwined. This was a great way to introduce a bunch of characters, who I hope will turn up again in future volumes, and to set up any future adventures Ginny has. I loved that the ladies really took the lead in this story, and except for blind Fox, the men pretty much took a backseat to the women. And while I hesitate to call this a multicultural title, DeConnick does give a pretty meaningful role to Sarah (is that her name? I don’t have the book in front of me and nothing I’ve found on The Internet mentions her), Fox’s black lady-friend, who also happens to be a total badass. I hope future volumes include even more diverse characters.

The art in this is also fantastic. Rios does a great job bringing the desert to life and Jordie Bellaire’s colors (another lady on this team, woot!) are crazy good. All the art is lush and detailed and really helps draw you into the story, and I found the team’s use of panels (lots of small panels indicating rapid movement and long narrow ones to pick out pivotal moments) really propels you through the many action sequences. My only complaint is that Rios (or someone) is a huge fan of the EXTREME CLOSEUP, and I feel like at least once very two page spread there was a panel or two drawn really close into whatever’s happening. Unfortunately, it almost starts to feel like one of those “Do You Know What This Is?” games where stuff is really highly magnified and looks completely alien; most of the time I could not tell what was happening in those close up panels. Thankfully, the surrounding panels usually did a good job of giving me an idea of what was happening, but it was off-putting and pulled me out of the story every time it happened.

Overall, this was a great read, and I’m definitely looking forward to what comes next. I also think it would be really interesting to compare this Western to another Western from Image East of West, which also uses Death as a character. This is a book I would give to adults or older teens who love Westerns, fantasy or strong heroines. (I wish more people would ask me for graphic novel recommendations; there are SO MANY goods ones out right now!)

Author’s website

Illustrator’s Flickr

(Contributed to Cannonball Reads 7 as part of my 52 reviews in 52 weeks.)


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The Case of the Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence

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Lawrence, C. (2011). The case of the deadly desperadoes. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN: 9781444001693

Annotation: P.K. Pinkerton walks into his family home just after his foster parents have been murdered by desperados disguised as Indians, and now they’re after him. What does P.K. have that has the most dangerous man around after him?

Reaction: I love a good western, so I was pretty excited when I first saw this at the library. It took me some time to get into this story, but I think I was trying to read at least three other books at the time, so the slow start was not necessarily the fault of the story. P.K. has a “Thorn” that means he cannot read other people’s emotions and has to rely on a list of facial expressions his foster mother gave him to give him an idea of the difference between happy, sad, angry and surprised. Thankfully, P.K. is also blessed with a perfect memory and good detecting skills. These attributes make me think that P.K. falls somewhere on the Autism Spectrum, though that is never explicitly stated.

As an adolescent boy on his own for the first time, P.K. has to navigate the lawless streets of Virginia City, Nevada and figure who he can trust in order to stay one step ahead of Whittlin’ Walt, the baddest, meanest, scariest desperado in the territory. His adventures take him all over the town and down into a mine shaft, which is where the story starts with P.K. writing down an account of everything that had happened so far. Once he gets to Virginia City, the story really gets going and each narrow miss makes the reader wonder how P.K. will ever get out of THIS mess?

I would recommend this book for readers who love adventure or westerns or stories where girls pretend to be boys (is P.K. a girl pretending to be a boy? Or a boy pretending to be a girl pretending to be a boy? That’s not a question Lawrence ever fully answers) or for kids who need or want to see a representation of a hero who is probably on the Autism Spectrum.

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Bad News for Outlaws by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson

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Nelson, V. M., & Christie, R. G. (ill.) (2009). Bad news for outlaws: the remarkable life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books. ISBN: 9780822567646

Annotation: A former slave, Bass Reeves became one of the most feared and respected U.S. Deputy Marshals in Indian Territory. Everyone knew he always got his man.

Reaction: This was a really great story about an honorable, upstanding, honest and dedicated man. He worked hard and earned respect from everyone he came across, and I think he would be an excellent role model for kids reading this. This author does a great job of balancing fact and entertainment, and I love the way she incorporates Western jargon into the text.

The art is really nice, capturing the essence of Reeves’s character.

This book is full of great examples of simile:

  • “as right as rain”
  • “like a bear to honey”
  • “like trying to find hair on a frog”
  • “as far from tender as boot leather”
  • I would use this book as part of a 5th or 6th grade history unit. This would also be a good option to augment an English unit to teach simile.

    This book won the 2010 Coretta Scott King Author Award and Gelett Burgess Children’s Book Award.

    This book is on the 2011 Students’ List for “Books receiving votes for Top Ten Favorites from students in Summer 2011.”

    Media Used: Acrylic on paper.

    Author’s Website: None

    Illustrator’s Website

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    Bubba the Cowboy Prince by Helen Ketteman

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    Ketteman, H., & Warhola, J. (ill.) (1997). Bubba the cowboy prince: a fractured Texas tale. New York: Scholastic Press. ISBN: 0590255061

    Annotation: In this Cinderella retelling, Bubba is the hard working stepson who isn’t given a chance to attend the ball and meet the rich Miz Lurleen until his fairy godcow showed up.

    Reaction: This is a really clever retelling of Cinderella, and I really appreciate that Ketteman switched the genders for Cinderella and Prince Charming. I also liked that Miz Lurleen loved Bubba just as much when he was dirty and smelly from hard work as she did when he was dressed up for the the ball.

    I really loved the illustrations in this book. Warhola’s paintings physically set Bubba off from his family: he’s golden, straight and muscular where his stepdaddy and stepbrothers are dark, slouched or fat. The animals in the story are really expressive, particularly the horse Bubba is breaking in the beginning and the herd of cows during the lightning strike when the fairy godcow comes down to help him. The humanistic expressions on these animals’ faces are hilarious and really add to the story. I also love that Warhola included the fairy godcow in most of the illustrations.

    In addition to his great animal expressions, Warhola excels at depicting the landscapes. His art makes me miss the Arizona desert, the cacti and the summer storms.

    This book has several good examples of simile:

  • “Cute as a cow’s ear”
  • “Sorrier than a steer in a stockyard”
  • “Darker than a black bull at midnight”
  • “Lower than a rattlesnake in a gully”
  • Winner 2001 Nebraska Golden Sower Award

    Media Used: Oil on canvas

    Author’s Website

    Illustrator’s Website

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    Best Shot in the West by Patricia C. McKissack

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    McKissack, P. C., McKissack, F. L., JR., & DuBurke, R. (ill.) (2012). Best shot in the west: the adventures of Nat Love. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. ISBN: 978-0811857499

    Annotation: In 1902, Nat Love is a lowly and disrespected railroad porter, but three years earlier, he had been one of the best cowboys herding cattle across the country, even winning the title “Best Shot in the West” in a competition.

    Reaction: I love Westerns, so perhaps I’m predisposed, but I really enjoyed this book. It was a quick read, and the stories Nat Love told his newspaper friend (drawn from his actual autobiography) were exciting and full of everything a reader expects from a good Western. Librarianaut likes that he doesn’t run around engaging in all sorts of illegal activities, and I have to agree. I really appreciate that this story is basically just about a man doing his job.

    Nat’s stories are told from his retirement, and that distance brings a sense of nostalgia to his adventures. He is frank about the dangers and hardships of the cowboy life, but it is clear that he misses the excitement, camaraderie and respect he found on the range. But “life is to be lived with your eyes looking forward,” and the cowboy way of life is all but gone (p. 130).

    The art in this book is phenomenal. DuBurke uses the pen drawings of the characters and actions in the foreground to convey motion, and the action comes alive. The pictures truly tell the story as well as the words, capturing the essence and tone of the Old West. DuBurke clearly depicts characters from the time period without overburdening the reader (or the pictures) with too much detail, and he uses many iconic images of cowboys and the West.

    The juxtaposition of the pen drawings in the foreground and the acrylics in the background (the division man and nature) is also really nice. The shades of grey in the pen drawings really highlight the vivid colors of the almost impressionistic backgrounds, really highlighting the natural beauty of the landscapes through which Nat rides.

    This book is on my Top Ten Favorites list for this class.

    Media Used: Acrylic and pen.

    Author’s Website: No author website

    Illustrator’s Website