Bird Key resident's new children's book focuses on the little known heroes of the "True West.''
Al “Mifflin” Lowe knows the difference between performing on front of kids versus their parents.
Now an author of children's books, the Bird Key man has seen what happens first hand.
“The adults will sit there politely and clap at the end, right?” Lowe said. “If you lose the kids' attention, and it takes about two minutes, they're gone. They're like running around the room, bouncing off the walls, talking to each other, they're doing everything … You lose them? They don't come back.”
Now, Lowe has released several children’s books and tries to apply some of that philosophy to his writing, winnowing down his stories to the basics. His latest is “The True West,” subtitled, “Real stories about Black cowboys, women sharpshooters, Native American rodeo stars, pioneering vaqueros, and the unsung explorers, builders and heroes who shaped the American West.”
Every category of larger-than-life Western personality is represented in the book over 24 spreads covering well-known names such as Annie Oakley and lesser-known lawmen such as Nat Love. The people are were real as are their outlandish, out-West lives.
In addition to the big names, Lowe, 72, wanted to bring in lesser-known but just as impactful characters of the Wild West, who were often women and people of color.
“It's part of our history, and it's a part of our history that is not as widely known and acknowledged,” Lowe said. “I don't think people are even trying to deny it, they just don't know it.”
The project of “The True West” began after “Cowboy Howie,” Lowe’s fictional story of a Black kid in New York City who wanted to be a cowboy so badly, he transformed skyscrapers into canyons, dogs into coyotes and a woman in a fur coat into a bear. His publisher asked if he’d ever thought about doing a nonfiction book, and that’s when Lowe began learning about the real Black cowboys before Cowboy Howie.
“There are lots of Black cowboy organizations in this country,” Lowe said. “There's one in New York, there's one in Texas, there's one in Compton, California. I'm just trying to be historically accurate, and honest about our mutual heritage.”
Motivating Lowe’s format for “The True West” was the model of kids’ books that you find on every bookstore shelf — the “greatest hits” genre that compiles the top names of sports heroes, or historical figures or the like. In his research for “The True West,” Lowe easily found information on the internet, but that the stories had to be refined for children's tastes.
“It's for kids to have a different, an honest, or better perspective on what the West was like, and who that included,” Lowe said.
And maybe one day, he’ll be cited in by a champion on "Jeopardy."
“One of the big winners said, ‘I read children's books, because they get to the point real fast,’” Lowe said. “You don't have to read 360 pages to know the salient, important facts about any subject, and so that's sort of what I try to do.”
Usually, Lowe heads back to Rhode Island in the summer, but this year he stayed on Bird Key. Not because of the pandemic, but because he was in the thick of the first draft of his first novel and he didn't want to break his concentration with a move.
“You know what I learned? I loved it down here in the summer,” Lowe said. “I had no problem with it. I love it when the pool gets up to around 90 degrees.”
Even as he works on his first non-children’s novel, Lowe’s younger fans won’t suffer from a dearth of content. In addition to “The True West,” Lowe’s book “The Cuddle Book” was released, and he recently had a meeting with animators to turn “Cowboy Howie” into a TV show.