Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Outlaw Thanksgiving

This children's book, by Caldecott Medal winner Emily Arnold McCully, is a fictional account of a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Butch Cassidy in the mid-1890s.  Published in 1998, it is based on fact and there is a detailed author's note at the end of An Outlaw Thanksgiving that provides information about Butch Cassidy and other real-life participants in the holiday meal, the railroads of the time period and how people regarded them, and train travel in the late nineteenth century.

The plot describes the journey west of Clara who, with her mother, is travelling by train to meet her father in California. On the prairie, their train becomes snowbound and sleds appear to take the passengers to nearby hotels to wait until the train is plowed out. A fellow passenger, kindly Mr. Jones, invites Clara and her mother to join him on the sled he has hired. Unbeknownst to the ladies, Mr. Jones takes them to Brown's Hole, where Butch Cassidy, going by the name Bob, is hosting Thanksgiving. Clara eventually recognizes the outlaw and Clara has to decide if she should reveal what she knows.

An Outlaw Thanksgiving is a quick, pleasurable read for elementary school-aged children. The many watercolor illustrations by the author effectively capture the spirit of the story and there is a map showing the routes of various railroads across the United States. The author visited Brown's Hole in Utah to research her story and adults interested in the Old West will also enjoy this work of historical fiction.