"Nelson plaits her narrative with Western lingo and homespun similes. . . . James' painterly oils swirl with energy, visible daubs creating the dusty, monumental landscape and equally monumental horses and humans. . . . A champion indeed." --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The true tale of a cowboy's epic rodeo ride from acclaimed author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Caldecott Honoree Gordon C. James.
In 1911, three men were in the final round of the famed Pendleton Round-Up. One was white, one was Indian, and one was black. When the judges declared the white man the winner, the audience was outraged. They named black cowboy George Fletcher the "people's champion" and took up a collection, ultimately giving Fletcher far more than the value of the prize that went to the official winner. Award-winning author Vaunda Micheaux Nelson tells the story of Fletcher's unlikely triumph with a western flair that will delight kids--and adults--who love true stories, unlikely heroes, and cowboy tales.
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About the AuthorVaunda Micheaux Nelson is the author of The Book Itch, as well as three Coretta Scott King Award-winning books: No Crystal Stair, Bad News for Outlaws, and Almost to Freedom. She is a former youth services librarian in New Mexico. Visit her online vaundanelson.com.
Gordon C. James, a graduate of the School of Visual Arts, is a nationally recognized, award-winning fine artist specializing in figurative drawing. He is the illustrator of the Scraps of Time children's book series. He has worked for Hallmark as an illustrator and artist and has taught at the University of North Carolina. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.
"George Fletcher's African American family took the Oregon Trail from Kansas when he was 10 years old. After settling in Pendleton, OR, he became friends with children living on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, growing up with a passion for horses and a talent for 'tam[ing] a horse without breaking what he loved so much--its spirit.' This picture-book biography is filled with Fletcher's own spirit as, despite facing prejudice in his attempts to enter and be judged fairly in rodeos, he became an expert in riding a bucking bronco. In a pivotal 1911 competition, he placed second to a white man despite the crowd's and even the local sheriff's belief in George's superior horsemanship, and the dramatic accounts of before, during, and after this episode are enthralling. The fantastic colloquial language is atmospheric without being overwrought (he 'took to their ways like a wet kitten to a warm brick'), and the excellent and thorough backmatter includes insight into Coretta Scott King Award-winning Nelson's research process. The Caldecott Honor winner James's oil-on-board illustrations are magnificent, utilizing a dusty yet rich palette in a variety of double-page spreads, single-page portraits, and spot art to show exciting action scenes that match the energy of the text. A distinguished depiction of men and horses, and an under-told piece of history from the Old West."--starred, Booklist
"Honing skills first learned from Umatilla, Walla Walla, and Cayuse friends in eastern Oregon, African-American cowboy George Fletcher bucked his way into legend at the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up. Nelson introduces readers to George as a boy learning his craft on the Umatilla Indian Reservation near Pendleton, where his family settled after moving from Kansas. Racism from the local whites cemented his friendship with the Native kids, and he absorbed their lessons in horsemanship. From the age of 16, he competed in rodeos that didn't exclude black competitors. Nelson plaits her narrative with Western lingo and homespun similes: 'Ranching fit George like made-to-measure boots.' The centerpiece of her narrative is the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up, where 21-year-old George competed against Nez Perce cowboy Jackson Sundown and white rancher John Spain. Here, Nelson puts as much effort into developing their broncs as characters as she does the humans, drawing from meticulous primary-source research to place readers in the moment. Although George mesmerized the audience with his skill, Spain was awarded first place--an act of unfairness recognized by the local sheriff, a decent white man, who spontaneously led a successful effort to anoint George 'People's Champion.' James' painterly oils swirl with energy, visible daubs creating the dusty, monumental landscape and equally monumental horses and humans. Six pages of backmatter include a glossary, bibliography, further information on Fletcher and other key players, and a fascinating discussion of the research challenges Nelson encountered. A champion indeed."--starred, Kirkus Reviews--Journal
"Colloquial narration by Nelson (The Book Itch) pairs with striking oil-on-board paintings by James (Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut) to introduce readers to African-American cowboy George Fletcher. Living in Pendleton, Ore., at the turn of the 20th century, Fletcher 'suffered meanness and hurt because of his skin color.' He also 'found a kinship' with children from the Umatilla Indian Reservation and 'watched the tribal horsemen and listened well.' Most of the book focuses on Fletcher's entry in the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up, the Northwest's largest rodeo, where Fletcher lost the bronc riding finals despite a show-stealing ride. The local sheriff, sensing prejudice in the judges' decision, raised prize money on the spot for Fletcher, who was dubbed 'the People's Champion.' Broad brush strokes paint expressive faces and dynamic scenes of horse and rider; one spread depicts Fletcher atop a bucking horse in several positions, bringing the picture to life. Extensive back matter delves deeper into the lives of Fletcher, his competitors, and the fair-minded sheriff, Tillman Taylor. A glossary of rodeo and western words and a selected bibliography wrap up this triumphant tale of fairness trumping prejudice for a wrangler extraordinaire."--starred, Publishers Weekly--Journal
"Nelson (Bad News for Outlaws, rev. 11/09) returns to the Old West for this engrossing picture-book biography of African American cowboy and bronc buster George Fletcher (1890-1973). It wasn't easy being one of the few black people in Pendleton, Oregon, but growing up he 'found kinship' with the Umatilla Indian Reservation's children, and from the tribal horsemen he learned to tame horses. At sixteen he began riding for prizes, though black riders weren't always allowed in competitions or treated fairly in them. The book showcases Fletcher's determination to prove himself, starting with smaller events and then focusing on the major event of his riding life: the 1911 Pendleton Round-Up. The first rider, a Nez Perce Indian, was disqualified for losing a stirrup; the second, Fletcher, thrilled the crowd; but the judges awarded the third rider, a white man, first place. The book, however, ends on a hopeful note: the crowd honored Fletcher publicly, collecting their own prize money for him and raising him on their shoulders, chanting, 'People's Champion!' Nelson's folksy language ('Ranching fit George like made-to-measure boots. Life in the saddle and riding rough were all he hankered for') brings readers right into the era, and James's (Crown, rev. 11/17) bold brushstrokes give the illustrations a dynamic feel suitable for the subject. Extensive back matter includes a glossary, source notes, and further information about the round-up and its participants."--The Horn Book Magazine
"Growing up in Eastern Oregon at the turn of the 20th century, George Fletcher discovered a love for horses at an early age: by 16, 'life in the saddle and riding rough were all he hankered for.' He competed in rodeos and performed stunts in Wild West shows, aiming for prizes, but Nelson notes 'When he was allowed to compete, the judges hardly ever treated him fair.' Readers will be mesmerized by lyrical, conversational prose that describes the 'rhythm of the ride, the rise and fall, the whirl and twirl, the spin and swerve' of Fletcher's rodeo moves. James captures the energy of the bucking horses and the tension and grace of the riders in vibrant oil-on-board paintings. A vivid close-up image depicts the horses' tossing heads, bared teeth, and wide eyes. The end notes include a more complete biographical sketch of Fletcher and information about the other two riders in the Saddle Bronc Championship of 1911, Jackson Sundown and John Spain. Nelson's discussion about her research process is particularly strong: she clearly identifies her sources, and when evidence is scant, she justifies her authorial decisions. VERDICT An excellent choice for most biography collections. The rollicking language and gorgeous art make this a terrific read-aloud and conversation starter for older elementary students."--starred, School Library Journal
"LET 'ER BUCK! George Fletcher, the People's Champion (Carolrhoda, 40 pp., $18.99; ages 4 to 8), written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson ('Bad News for Outlaws') and illustrated by the Newbery Honor winner Gordon C. James ('Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut'), tells the story of the black cowboy George Fletcher, whose journey began when his family set out on the Oregon Trail from their Kansas town. After they met with racism, young George found solace among the children on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in eastern Oregon. There, he nurtured his love of riding with a make-believe bronco, but over time, the tribal horsemen taught George how to 'buck.' He became a star at local rodeos, even while being shut out of more popular ones, which opposed black cowboys competing against white cowboys. But in 1911 the 21-year-old George competed against the fiercest cowboys in the Northwest: the Nez Percé Indian Jackson Sundown and the white rancher John Spain.
"What follows is a detailed account, rendered adroitly through Nelson's clear prose and James's elegant paintings, of one of the most important rodeo shows in American history, which established Fletcher as the 'people's champion' -- even though the judge declared Spain the winner. With its energetic pairing of words and art, 'Let 'er Buck!' comes alive to unearth an unsung American hero."--The New York Times Book Review