Thanksgiving Book Review: Dinner with Criminals

I have to admit to being conflicted about this book.

The good: The illustrations are wonderful and the story is an exciting wild west adventure whose main character is a girl!

The bad: The adventure involves meeting (surviving), sharing Thanksgiving dinner, and dancing with the notorious outlaw Butch Cassidy. The story paints Butch Cassidy as…well…a really nice guy!

These quotes illustrate this conflict:

Clara watched to see who Bob – Butch – would choose for a partner. He came straight for her! He bowed. “May I have this dance?” He asked.
Clara stared at him. His blue eyes twinkled. She had to be brave for mama’s sake. “Mr. Cassidy…are you going to rob our train?” she blurted.
Butch roared with laughter. “I saw right away you were sharp,” he said. “How did you know who I was?”
“I saw your picture on a poster,” Clara said.
“Well, a poster don’t tell the whole story of a man,” Butch said. “We’ve all worked as cowhands here. These people have been good to us. And we’re just saying thanks today.” He winked. “We won’t rob your train. I wouldn’t want to scare your mama after she’s had such a nice time.”

While Butch Cassady’s life story isn’t as violent, bloody, and pro-confederate politics (e.g.: slavery) as wild west criminals like Jesse James, he was still a thief who robbed banks, payroll payments (read: taking the entire paycheck for the vast majority of a small town), and ranchers (e.g.: cattle rustling).

These were facts that I kept rolling around in my head while I read this story about a little girl who is smart and brave enough to identify the man in the wanted poster as the benevolent host of an impromptu rescue of a snow-bound train and the Thanksgiving feast that hosted a large number of strangers from that train.

This book would make an excellent starting point for a discussion about the many different ways that people can behave, as well as the many different ways that history can be presented.

Note: The book is written for older kids, with significantly more text than is generally found in picture books.

An Outlaw Thanksgiving by Emily Arnold McCully
Winner of the Caldecott Medal

Ordering Books: Whether you are building a family library or simply looking for a fun way to build-up to the holiday celebration, having brand new books shipped to your home, in your child’s name, is a great way to do it. To a child, it is super exciting to receive a package in the mail, addressed to them! They may even want to read their brand-new book immediately AND before bed.

Library Holds: If you’d prefer to review the books before buying them, or need to maintain a tight budget, then use the local library. Go to the library website, locate the book and place it on hold. When the notification arrives, bring the child along and let them help find the books in the on-hold shelves.

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