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On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy's Ride Across America Paperback – February 11, 2012
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About the Author
Lisa K. Winkler is a journalist and an educator. She met Miles Dean while serving as a literacy consultant in Newark, NJ. When she heard about his cross-country journey on horseback, she became fascinated by the history she never knew. Her curiosity landed her an assignment to research black jockeys, culminating in “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian magazine’s website (April 24, 2009). Her other writing includes two essays published in book anthologies; one in I’m Going to College- Not You!: Surviving the College Search with My Child (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), and the other in Wisdom of our Mothers (Familia Press, 2010. A newspaper reporter (Danbury News-Times, CT), before becoming a teacher, Lisa writes for professional journals and for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. Among her interviewees - who include authors, college presidents, scientists, and artists - was Miles Dean in February, 2009. She has written several teacher study guides for Penguin Books. She holds a BA from Vassar College and an MA in Urban Education from New Jersey City University. An avid reader, knitter, and cyclist, she lives with her husband in the greater New York area and has three grown children.
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In spite of extensive planning Miles experiences the difficulties of the actual horseback ride across motorized America, along with the exuberance of meeting welcoming strangers in every place. Readers learn along with Miles about various famous African-Americans, who were firsts in fields that don't make the history books, such as horse jockeys or cowboys. Rather than being a chronological history, this is a geographical history. Every locale has its heroes and heroines, and they fit into various historical time frames. The focus of this book is on African-American heroes from each stop along the way, so there might be a Civil War hero, and a country singer in the same location.
Winkler's mini-biography easily meets the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, since students will be required to read greater percentages of nonfiction texts. This is a book that will interest students, particularly ones who like horses and cowboys. Teachers are often looking for books that will appeal to disenfranchised students. This book is the perfect hook for African-American males, statistically having the largest percentage of students in this category. Miles, the rider, is the first hero, attempting this difficult trip at age 57, and overcoming obstacle after obstacle, persevering until he completes his goal. Then meeting all the unsung African-American heroes along Mile's historic epic gives students a sense of belonging and contributing to the history of the United States that is so essential for creating future citizens of this nation.
The ride on which this book escorts the reader goes beyond exposing the faults of the country to forgiveness, and allows students to see how people of different ethnicities contributed to the success of Miles' journey. The reader is not encouraged to forget history or cover it up, but maturely go beyond its faults and take advantage of new opportunities. Readers realize that they stand on the backs of heroes who paved the way for their success, and move forward to create a better world.
Winkler's story weaves Dean's ride from New York to California with very small tidbits on the history of why Dean stopped in the various locations important in African American history along the way. Each small history, sometimes only a paragraph in length, begs for elaboration for a deeper tale. Along the way, Dean meets many small town people who are in their way heroes to him: a sheriff who clears the way for him to ride his horse, people who open their open to him, and others. At other times, he stops and talks with students, many taking an interest in his horses, animals which many of them have never seen in person. Trials and turbulations greet him at every turn but valiantly he fights through and finishes his journey six months later at a celebration at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles.
The book is a quick and easy read and would be very effective for a middle school classroom that could evoke a deep discussion about African American contributions throughout the centuries. Too often school curriculums only focus on slavery and the Civil Rights movement, both important in their own right, but then neglect the other aspects of a vital group in history. The book could be paired with a bulletin board map and student assignments on the history of the importance of each of Dean's stops along his journey.
Most recent customer reviews
Miles Dean was born in Brooklyn and lived in New Jersey in the 1950s, but from the time he was a kid he dreamed of being a cowboy.Read more