Bass Reeves: Tales of the Talented Tenth

Vol. 1. illus. by Joel Christian Gill. 158p. Fulcrum. 2014. pap. $25.95. ISBN 9781938486630.
Gr 7 Up—Expanding upon the short entry that appeared in his Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History (Fulcrum, 2014), Gill opens his new graphic novels series on African American heroes with a volume about Bass Reeves, a former slave and the first black U.S. Marshall. With alternating full-page spreads and varied panels, the tale switches between 1902 (during his time as a lawman) and the 1840s (when Reeves first learned how to shoot as an enslaved child). The narrative details Reeves's adventures as his master's prized possession, eventual escape, experiences living with Native Americans, fighting for the North in the Civil War, and then as a rough and tough officer of the law (rumored to be the inspiration for The Lone Ranger). The folkloric, tall tale tone of the text is enhanced by the earthy illustrations and the pictographs that serve as substitutes for racial slurs—a blackface-type head for the n-word and an American Indian in headdress for "redskins." Even more striking is a man-size crow character who symbolizes Jim Crow racism and practices of the time and plagues the subject throughout his life. Time jumps are sometimes confusing, as the color schemes of the two time lines are similar, but the format, unique perspective, and back matter make this title a prime candidate for school reports, strengthening American history collections, and reluctant readers of biographies. A much-needed offering and perspective.—Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

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