March 2012 Issue
February 21, 2012

Check it out: Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

Author: Vaunda Micheaux Nelson - Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie
Source: NYSUT United
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Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

Bad News for Outlaws:
The Remarkable Life of
Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

Recommended by: Tara Thibault-Edmonds, Rondout Valley Federation of Teachers & School-Related Professionals

Suitable for: Grades 4-6

Why I chose it: Who can resist the story of a gun-slinging crack-shot U.S. Marshal? With its portrait-style cover and Old West font, the story of real-life hero Bass Reeves unfolds like a western tall tale. But, as author Nelson says, "… it isn't. It's true." And it doesn't hurt that the book is the 2010 Coretta Scott King Author Award winner.

What I like best: Having overcome the adversity of being born into slavery and later fighting alongside his master in the Civil War, Reeves becomes a runaway after a disagreement with his owner. He heads to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma. In 1875, with a wife and 11 children, he signs on as a deputy marshal, one of the 200 original marshals hired under the legendary "Hanging Judge" Isaac C. Parker. Though Reeves never learns to read, he uses his wit to catch outlaw after outlaw, eventually bringing more than 3,000 people to justice, and killing 14 men in the line of duty. Reeves is tough, yet honest, and brings in his own son after he commits murder.

How teachers can use this book: It can be tough to find a good biography that will get students interested in the genre and style. This fits the bill, and is great for a read-aloud lesson. Integrate technology by letting the author herself introduce the book. Nelson is shown reading her author's note from the back of the book, and the first few pages of the story, at The class can then process and organize the information by creating a bio cube at, which can be used for outlining a paper or creating a presentation.

About the author: Vaunda Michaeux Nelson is a children's librarian at a public library in New Mexico. For more information, visit

"Check it Out" features books recommended to teachers and parents by school librarians. Have a recommendation? School librarians may send suggestions, along with your name and local union, to

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