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.

Historical Hairdos

historic hairdosVC Salon, you are amazing. Last week, 5 stylists donated their time and significant skills to give 6 girls totally historic makeovers. And we don’t mean “historic” as in slang for “awesome” (even though the results were awesome). We mean historic as let’s-go-back-in-history-and-do-a-Marie-Antoinette-updo historic.

Located in Robbinsville, New Jersey, VC Salon & Spa (now renamed Coterie 17) was founded in 1995 by Angela Pantaleon. A quick peek at the salon’s about us page confirms the dedication, playfulness and fun they bring to their workplace. Also, look how gorgeous it is!

vc salon and spa 1vc salon and spa 2vc salon and spa 3The collaboration was lead by stylist Delia Salguero. We provided her with the models and pages of historic photos, and Delia recruited the stylists. The stylists then selected the model, the hairdo, and also put together costumes and accessories for the photo shoot.

vc salon and spa 4The models were volunteers Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary society. You might recognize one of the faces below. Yes, that’s Hope, our blog’s teen tester and Cotsen Critix alumna!

modelsAlong with the costumes and the hair came makeup, including one wicked pair of fake eyelashes. So…are you ready to see some historic makeovers?


model 1

Hair: Jennifer Bossert Graziani
Makeup: Delia Salguero


model 2model 2 side

Hair: Bailey O’Brien


model 3

Hair: Tatiana Rivadeneira
Makeup: Tatiana Rivadeneira


model 4model 4 back

Hair: Brenna Roth
Makeup: Tatiana Rivadeneira


model 5

Hair: Tatiana Rivadeneira
Makeup: Delia Salguero


model 6 side

Hair: Delia Salguero
Makeup: Delia Salguero


Many thanks to VC Salon for hosting historic hairdos! A big round of applause to stylists Jennifer Bossert Graziani, Bailey O’Brien, Tatiana Rivadeneira, Brenna Roth, and Delia Salguero for sharing your talent with us. Thank you to our models, who patiently sat in chairs, got fogged with hairspray, and in some cases wore eye makeup for the first time, all in the name of style. Finally, much appreciation and gratitude to Delia Salguero for coordinating the event.

delia and the girls

Delia and the girls. You rock!

Shadow Stories

shadow storiesMake a shadow puppet bird, then fly through a story as your narrative appears on the big screen!

We read Shadows, written by April Pulley Sayre, and illustrated by Harvey Stevenson (Henry Holt, 2002). This beautifully illustrated non-fiction rhyming book examines the various shadows two children find at places like the beach, tall grass, a baseball game, and a creek. The rhymes are lovely and lyrical. One of my favorites is “Dragonfly shadows zip and pop / Running horse shadows never stop.” Lovely!

You’ll need:

shadow puppet bird

The construction of the bird is very simple (in fact, if you want to make a smaller version, check out this post). Trace and cut the bird and bird wing templates onto white poster board. Use a hole punch to create an eye for the bird.

Next, decorate your bird (we busted out the Bling Bin and markers for this purpose). To create textures around the edges of the puppet, we also offered craft ties, small feathers, fabric flowers, and paper tissue squares. Twist two pipe cleaners into bird feet, and tape them to the back of the bird’s body.

Tab and hot glue the wing to the bird’s body, then tape the short end of a bendy straw to the underside of the wing. The straw is the “stick” that will allow you to flap the bird’s wing up and down.

shadow puppet bird wingUse packing tape to attach a 12″ piece of PVC pipe to the back of the bird (regular tape isn’t quite strong enough). We wrapped our PVC pipes with color masking tape, but that’s definitely optional. Your bird is done!

shadow puppeteerAll we need now is a shadow puppet show set! We made our set on an old overhead projector. Oh how do I love thee overhead projector? Let me count the ways

overhead projector setTo build the set, Marissa cut a tree, a nest, a lake, and a birdhouse out of black poster board. Making the sun was a little more challenging – our initial attempts looked like a giant spider or a vicious super nova. Marissa solved the problem by hot gluing sun rays to a piece of archival mylar (clear cellophane works too). She also used a scrap of mylar to make a sprinkling of birdseed on the ground.

shadow setDuring the shadow puppet story, a storm rolls in, so Marissa also made a cloud, mylar rain, and a thunderbolt.

shadow raincloudShe mounted all the moving set pieces on bits of balloon stick (pencils work too).

shadow puppet set piecesAt story time, we lowered the shades, turned out the lights, and fired up the projector! One by one, kids stepped up to the screen. Then, as I narrated, they flew their birds through the story! Hmmm…we might have made that birdhouse a little too tall…

puppeteer in actionHere’s our lovely puppeteer in action! Ready for a show?