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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Andrea Warren's The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas, is a biography of William Cody, the founder and star of the world famous Wild West Show. Warren's biography concentrates largely on Cody's years growing up in the Kansas Territory, which at the time was known as "Bloody Kansas" because of the violence between pro-slavers and abolitionists. Before he was 17, Cody had worked on wagon trains, ridden for the Pony Express, prospected for gold, been an Army scout on the Santa Fe Trail, and joined the Union Army. Despite a backdrop of some of the most violent times in American history, that violence is never described in graphic detail. Cody's extraordinary childhood adventures should captivate even the most reluctant readers.
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What's the story?
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody was as famous as a 21st-century movie superstar. His Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders of the World (at its peak, it required 500 train cars to transport 100 entertainers and hundreds of horses and featured Annie Oakley and the great Lakota Sioux Chief Sitting Bull) performed all over the world. As extraordinary as his adult life came to be, his childhood years were equally the stuff of legend. Raised in Kansas during the violent struggle between pro-slavers and abolitionists, Cody was herding cattle behind a wagon train at age 11 and working as a fur trapper at 13 before, at 14, he signed on to the dangerous life of a Pony Express rider. Before joining the Union Army, he became part of a guerrilla band that crossed the border to slave-holding Missouri to steal horses. After serving in the Union Army as a scout and spy, Cody became a legendary buffalo hunter (earning him the nickname Buffalo Bill) and a guide for General Custer’s troops. In 1883, he created the first of the Wild West shows that would make him an international celebrity for the rest of his life.
Is it any good?
Filled with cowboys, wagon trains, cattle drives, Indians, Civil War spies, and European royalty, this riveting biography of Buffalo Bill has enough adventure for a Hollywood movie. Author Andrea Warren's liberal use of archival photos and illustrations bring a sense of time and place to the text and helps make the often-dreaded "history lesson" come alive. THE BOY WHO BECAME BUFFALO BILL presents the complex issue of slave and free states in a way that's understandable even for readers who might not yet have studied the subject.
Warren addresses but never discusses in depth two striking dualities in Cody's life: He earned his nickname by killing thousands of buffalo to feed workers on the railways going west, but he also was a conservationist. He fought and killed Indians while he was an Army scout and felt that they should cede their land to white settlers, but he was an open critic of their treatment by the U.S. government and honored them as respected members of his Wild West Show. This book will show readers that biographies can be even more exciting than fiction.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about self-reliance. Can you imagine being 11 or 12 and taking on some of the jobs that Bill Cody did to help his family?
After reading this book, do you think movies and TV accurately portray what it was like to grow up on the American frontier in the years before the Civil War?
Did you know that the fight against slavery took place outside of the South? Did the state in which you live ever allow slavery?
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