The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas by Andrea Warren. Two Lions, 2015. 241 pages.
What It Is: A middle grades biography of Buffalo Bill
What It’s About: Buffalo Bill may be the title character of this wild ride, but Bleeding Kansas just prior to the Civil War takes center stage. Billy Cody came of age during a particularly turbulent, violent time right on the border of Kansas and Missouri. Pro-slave factions were set out to kill his anti-slave father; that combined with the usual suspects (disease, general economic hardship, pioneer struggles, etc.) meant that young Billy had to grow up in a hurry.
What Works: The narrative is fast-paced and sprinkled with terrific photographs and artwork from the time period. Short chapters end on a suspenseful note, keeping readers hooked. Warren’s end matter is outstanding: copious source notes, a thorough bibliography plus extra resources on supporting characters and the time period, author’s notes on research and information on characters such as Wild Bill Hickok (who makes an appearance).
What Doesn’t Work: Some young readers may pick this up hoping for a more straightforward biography of Buffalo Bill. This is more a book about tensions in Kansas and the country during the mid-1800s (slavery, Native Americans, Mormons, westward expansion) with young Billy Cody as the focal point.
What I Think: A great read all in all. Bill’s mother is clearly religious/Christian, but it’s unclear whether he shares any of that faith. It would be interesting to see that explored further. Regardless, he seemed to treat those with whom he came into contact with dignity, even if they were different from himself.
What I Recommend: Target audience is middle grades (4th-8th), but advanced readers as young as third could get into this story easily and older readers will also enjoy it. A good choice for independent reading for fun, to go along with a study of U.S. History during this time period, to offer a nonfiction “Western” alternative.