The True West & Forgotten Founders (Mifflin Lowe)

Hello, friends! Our books today are The True West and Forgotten Founders, written by Mifflin Lowe and illustrated by Wiliam Luong, a set of anthology titles that seek to illuminate forgotten heroes.

When we think of cowboys, what do we think of? Or how about the rebels of the American Revolution? The sad fact is that when the history books get written, women and minorities tend to be left out, even if they played pivotal roles in how history was made! These titles shine a light on some of the forgotten figures who shaped the early days of the United States as well as the American West; women, BIPOC, and more.

Ambitious yet uneven. The core concept of biographical compilations like these are solid, and I love any book that covers lesser-known heroes such as Sybil Ludington, Bass Reeves, or Jackson Sundown; I also learned about quite a few more figures I’d never heard of. Yet while both books have noble, and necessary, intentions, their execution is uneven at times and incomplete at others. First, despite being billed as a more inclusive look at history, mention of LGBTQ+ identities are nonexistent; for instance, Baron von Stueben, a publicly gay military leader who played a major part in organizing the first Continental Army, is only briefly mentioned (his sexuality is not). Uncomfortable truths, such as slavery and indigenous genocide, are breezed over quickly or ignored entirely, such as in the entry about the Escalante Expedition, which led to the construction of the Californian Spanish missions. The inclusion of entries on Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody, both relatively well-known white male historical figures, is puzzling. So while the artwork and design of the books are stunning, the written content feels incomplete. We did enjoy perusing both titles, and we did learn a lot, but I couldn’t help but notice the missed opportunities for representing history through a more honest and inclusive lens. Still, while I wouldn’t call these perfect, they are absolutely worth the read: they do give a great deal of insight into some the forgotten elements of both eras. So overall, Baby Bookworm approved.

(Note: Copies of these books were provided to The Baby Bookworm by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

Outlaw Pete (Bruce Springsteen)

Hello, friends! Our book today is Outlaw Pete, written by Bruce Springsteen and illustrated by Frank Caruso. Using the lyrics of Springsteen’s song, Outlaw Pete tells the tragic story of the toughest and most fearsome gunslinger to ever roam the West.

Pete is an outlaw from birth, no doubt about it. By six months old, he’d already spent three months in jail. He fears no lawman, shows no mercy, and only slows his wild ride across the West to sow mayhem and misery. One night, Pete awakes from a nightmare of his own demise, and decides to retire. He falls in love with a Native woman, marrying and having a baby. But when you’ve done terrible things, there’s no hiding forever – eventually, Pete’s past catches up to him, and he makes a terrible choice that sends him on the run once more, never to return.

If that plot summary doesn’t sound like a children’s book, well… you’re not wrong. Truth be told, Outlaw Pete is a book that’s a difficult to pin down. Inspired by Springsteen’s childhood stories, this is an authentic murder ballad, complete with language and illustrations of crime and death. However, it also has some of the most beautiful art I’ve seen in a picture book, an exciting story, and even a valid lesson for little ones: doing bad and hurting others is something you can never truly escape. So, would we recommend it? Well, full disclosure: the Baby Bookworm family are huge Springsteen fans. And truthfully, it probably will become part of our rotation: JJ loved the art, adored the song as I sang it to her, and we’re a family that doesn’t shy away from dark themes. I would say this: if you’re not looking for a book that will raise a lot of tough questions with your little reader, maybe pass on this one. But for Springsteen fans, fans of gorgeous Western-inspired illustrations, and those that don’t mind criminal misdeeds in their picture books, this one is Baby Bookworm approved!