The Best of the West

Recently, I was delighted to connect with writer and musician, Mifflin Lowe. His latest children’s book, The True West (Bushel & Peck, 2020), is a journey to the American West and focuses on the individuals often left out of the popular narratives. Here we meet African American, Latino, Asian, and American Indian soldiers, inventors, workers, pioneers, cowboys…AND cowgirls! Filled with historic photos, amazing facts, helpful definitions, and illustrations by Wiliam Luong, it’s a fantastic, fascinating, and dynamic resource. I lassoed Mifflin for a few questions about his work…

How did this project come to be?

I wrote a picture book and an animated film called The Awesome, Amazing, Occasionally Incredible Adventures of Cowboy Howie, about a mixed race boy from New York City who dreamed of being a cowboy. In his imagination the city’s canyons turned into the Grand Canyon, dogs became wolves, pigeons became eagles etc.

What was the research like for the book? Did you, for example, get a hankering to visit some Western locations? Saddle up Old Paint?

Research was fascinating. I did it mostly online and I learned a ton about the people and the life in the West. The people were all tough and I mean that in the best possible way — the were incredibly resilient from Calamity Jane to Stagecoach Mary Fields to Fox Hastings to Bass Reeves.

Mary Fields

Who was your favorite person to research?

Well maybe Annie Oakley – she was under 5 foot tall and could shoot a dime thrown in the air at 20 paces, and shoot while standing on the back of a galloping horse. Also, Bass Reeves who was a Black lawman who arrested over 3,000 criminals — more than Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp put together. Bass is supposedly the person the Lone Ranger was based on. Bass always left silver dollar at the scene of a crime he’d solved — like the Lone Ranger did with his silver bullets. Also, Jackson Sundown, the Native American rodeo rider who was probably the best ever and Mamie Hafely who used to jump off a five story tower on the back of her horse into a pool of water

Jackson Sundown

What’s one thing that surprised you when working on this book?

How strong, determined and hard working all these people were. They never gave up and never gave in.

Chinese Railroad Workers

In the Calamity Jane chapter, you mention the “flat-out cool’ nicknames from the Wild West. What would your nickname be?

Mr. Smartypants, maybe? Naw, I don’t know… maybe Muffin… like Mifflin…people sometimes make the mistake.

Muffin Lowe


Images courtesy of Mifflin Lowe and Bushel & Peck Books. Illustrations by Wiliwam Luong.

The Discovery Museum: A Famous Scientist Virtual Escape Room

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Welcome to our latest virtual escape room, this time with a scientific twist…solve the puzzles, crack the code, and learn about five famous scientists and their contributions to the world!

Ready to explore? Click here

Interested in our other virtual escape rooms, all designed by our amazing Katie? Solve a case with Sherlock Holmes here, and search for pirate’s gold here. Want to try to design your own room? You’ll find Katie’s helpful tutorial here.

Time Travel 101

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New Jersey Colonial paper money side 1, 1759

Friends, teachers, history buffs…lend me your ears! Today, I wanted to share something a little different from our creative story times,community  events, and interviews. It’s related to another fantastic area of my job, Namely, working with special collections.

The Time Travel 101 program is a partnership between between our library and Princeton University’s Program in Teacher Preparation. It’s focused exclusively on the teaching of history using primary sources. The program consists of five different suitcases that contain primary sources teachers can borrow and use in their classrooms. Topics include Medieval manuscripts, New Jersey history, and WWII.

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Child’s gas mask and carrying bag, circa 1940

So actual 15th-century illuminated manuscript pages go directly to local classrooms for students to hold, examine, and learn from? YES! And at no cost as well! If you’d like to learn a little more about the program, please see this excellent article by Stephanie Ramírez, Princeton University Library Communications Specialist and Staff Writer.

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Book of Hours page, circa 1425-1450

And while the suitcases can only travel to certain local school districts, blog readers will be delighted to know that digital versions – complete with printable collections materials and curriculum for your classrooms – can be found right here on our library’s website.

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Various trade cards, late 19th century

Since Time Travel 101 launched a few years ago, we’ve been hearing great things from schools. My favorite is this e-mail, which was sent to us by a local teacher:

I wanted to give you some feedback on the Time Travel 101 suitcase. We LOVED it!!!! I was able to share it with approximately 10 teachers in grades 4-5-6. A teacher thought the suitcase lesson was too advanced for her students, but then the next day a student brought a copy of a summons for his 9th great-grandmother, accused of witchcraft! He said that he had told his parents about the suitcase, and they showed him this family artifact. He brought it to school to show the teacher and the class. I just thought this was a wonderful connection that this student made because of the suitcase lesson!


If you’re interested in some more of our special collections blog posts, you’ll find original Beatrix Potter stuffed animals here, the art of minim here, rebus puzzle cards here, a weird books post here, constellation cards here, some cool book curses here, an article about a different classroom special collections program here, and our awesome Gutenberg print history event here.

You can also jump over to Cotsen’s curatorial blog, which always has something interesting going on!