“Ask any cowpoke…”
It’s always a pleasure and a privilege to be part of a fellowship of readers who get to see a gifted writer’s work in progress. This cowpoke’ll tell you, boy howdy, did she ever learn from Vaunda Micheaux Nelson! Over several months, Vaun shared versions of Let ‘Er Buck! George Fletcher, the People’s Champion with our writing group, in which I am the long-distance member who Skypes across time-zones and borders.
We read and loved and questioned the text. Over and over. We quibbled over words and sequence, over where the story began, where it should end. We watched in admiration as the story grew stronger, took root, grew into itself as its subject grew into himself.
And in the end, here is that beautiful book. Let ‘Er Buck tells the story of African American cowboy George Fletcher. In brief, voiced text, it reveals layers of history, while raising questions about meanness and generosity, about competition and what it means to win.
Look at this sample page. Young George’s playful determination is captured in the rousing illustration by 2018 Caldecott honoree, Gordon C. James. Here are the words that point to this soaring image: “It was plain as the ears on a mule he was born to ride.”
The facing page, not shown here, picks up the rest of the text in an unpredictable manner, and seems to foreshadow what’s yet to come with the turn of the page. Those illustration choices raise questions of their own–why one action and not another? Grist for a whole discussion on picture book text and how emotional tone can be employed to invite illustration rather than to dictate its specifics.
More about Nelson’s beautiful new picture book on her beautiful new web site.