Tuesday, 5 July 2011

BOOK REVIEWS ~ "Little Sure Shot: The Story of ANNIE OAKLEY" By: Stephanie Spinner

"The Story of Annie Oakley" is told in a "Step into Reading" book called "Little Sure Shot."  This is a "Step 3" book and is written by Stephanie Spinner and illustrated by Jose Miralles.  It was published by Random House:  New York in 1993.

Alhtough the 48 page book was too difficult for a beginning reader like Isobel, she still enjoyed the story of Annie Oakley and listened to the tale with interest.

This photograph of Annie was on Page 4, however in the copy we were reading, it was slightly ripped, so we could not see her face:

Annie Oakley
The story begins in the fall of 1869.  Phoebe Ann Moses is nine-years old and "sits alone in a run-down farmhouse.  She is worried her family is very poor.  They work hard, but they have no money.  They never have enough to eat.  The girl wants to help.  She has an idea.  That is why she is in the house by herself.  The idea scares her a little.  The girl looks at her father's gun.  No one in the family is allowed to shoot it.  Her mother says it is only for protection.  But the girl knows guns are good for hunting.  She has watched men shoot birds and animals for food.  Now she wants to try.  The girl takes the gun off the wall.  It is heavy.  It is taller than she is.  It smells of oil and gunpowder.  Mama will not like this, thinks the girl.  But I cam going to do it anyhow.  I have to" (Pages 5 and 6).

And so the reader is introduced to the girl who would eventually become famous as "Annie Oakley."  Phoebe takes the gun into the woods and shoots the first things she aims at ~ a squirrel.  "Her family will have a good meal that night.  She has found a way to feed them." (Page 8).  "Life was never the same for the Moses family after Annie picked up that gun.  She put food on the table.  She even sold the game she shot.  A fancy restaurant bought the quail and grouse.  A trader named Frenchy La Motte bought the foxes, minks and raccons for their skins.  For the first time ever, Annie's family didn't have to worry about money" (Pages 9 and 10).

But the hard times didn't completely end.  Annie's mother remarried but she still "struggled to work as a country nurse and take care of her children.  They wore old, raggedy clothes.  Often they went hungry.  There was never any money for books.  That meant Annie and her brothers and sisters couldn't go to school" (Pages 10 and 11). 

"Annie wished she could read and write.  Once she even took a job so she could go to school.  But the other children made fun of her hand-me-down dresses and her worn-out shoes.  They even made fun of her name, calling her Moses-Poses.  Annie never went back" (Pages 11 and 12).

Annie's mother wanted her daughter to get an education.  Her mother wanted Annie to "act like a lady" and felt that "guns were for boys."  "Annie wanted to be a lady.  But shooting was important to her.  Why couldn't a lady be strong, and brave, and a crack shot, too?  Annie just couldn't understand" (Page 12).

So, when she was fifteen, Annie was sent to Cincinnati, Ohio to live with her sister Lyda and her husband Joe.  Lyda told her mother that in the city Annie would be able to go to school and become a young lady.

"Annie did like Cincinnati.  She liked the crowds, the bright lights and the steamboats on the Ohio River.  But best of all she liked the shooting galleries.  There she could shoot to her heart's content.  The tin ducks gliding by were so much easier to hit than live birds!" (Page 14).

"One day Annie noticed a man watching her shoot.  When she put down her gun, he came over and tipped his hat. 'Miss, would you like to earn some money doing that?' he asked.  'How?' said Annie.  'In a shooting match,' he said.  'Winner gets a hundred dollars.'  Annie was amazed.  A hundred dollars was a lot of money -- more than many people earned in a year" (Page 14).

Annie agreed and a date was set.  "She was up against a famous sharpshooter named Frank Butler.  He went around the country giving shooting exhibitions to crowds even bigger than this one.  When Frank Butler saw Annie, he laughed.  'That little thing?' he said.  'She's only a girl!'  Annie's cheeks burned.  Suddenly she didn't care that Frank Butler was famous.  Or that he was wearing medals from all the contests he'd won.  She forgot about being nervous.  I am going to win this, she decided.  Butler fired the first shot.  It was a hit.  Then Annie fired.  Her shot was a hit, too.  Target after target was thrown into the air.  Time after time, both Annie and Frank hit them.  Then, on his last turn, Frank Butler missed.  The crowd got very quiet.  This was Annie's chance.  She raised her gun.  She took aim, fired -- and hit the target.  She had won!  The crowd cheered.  They had never seen anything like Annie.  Neither had Frank Butler.  'That little girl is one heck of a shot!' he said.  'One heck of a shot!  After the match Frank could not stop thinking about her.  She was not only a heck of a shot, she was also very pretty.  Frank called on Annie at Lyda's house.  They began to see a lot of each other.  A year later they were married" (Pages 17 to 19).

Annie was happy.  "It was fun being married to a famous sharpshooter.  Annie loved to watch his act.  Frank could hit three glass balls that were thrown into the air at the same time.  He could shoot the number off a playing card.  He could even shoot an apple into pieces -- off the head of his dog!" (Page 20).

When Frank went on tour, Annie went to stay with her mother.  She finally learned to read and write so she could write letters to her husband.  She also spent time, on the farm, learning how to do trick shooting.  "She wanted to surprise Frank when he came back.  So every day she went out into the fields to practice.  And by the time Frank returned, Annie could do all the stunts he did" (Pages 21 and 22).

When Butler's regular partner, in his stunt show, "got sick and couldn't perform there was no one to take his place -- except Annie.  Annie was not used to stages, or bright lights, or large audiences.  She missed her first shot, and the audience groaned.  There were boos and hisses.  'Go, home, girlie!' someone shouted.  Annie's eyes flashed.  She took a deep breath and shot again.  This time she scored a hit.  Each shot after that was perfect.  Soon the audience was clapping and cheering.  The little girl with the big gun had won them over.  And Frank Butler had a new partner for his sharpshooting act!" (Pages 22 and 23).

It was at this point in time, that Annie took the stage name "Annie Oakley."  "She remembered the shooting match where she and Frank first met.  It was held at a place called Oakley.  That's it, she thought.  And from that time on, her name was Annie Oakley" (Page 24).

Frank and Annie traveled all through the Midwest.  "Annie loved going from town to town with Frank.  And her shooting kept getting better.  Soon she was doing things no one else could do -- not even her husband.  She could shoot a dime out of his hand.  She could shoot the end off a lit cigarette that he held in his mouth.  She could shoot bending over backward.  She could even shoot behind her by looking in a mirror -- or a knife blade!  It is no wonder that her fame grew." (Page 24.)

When Sitting Bull came to see the show he jumped to his feet and yelled "Watanya cicilia!" which means "Little Sure Shot" in the Sioux language.  Oakley became friends with the Chief.  He even adopted her and made her a Sioux princess.  Soon the whole world would know about "Little Sure Shot" -- thanks to Buffalo Bill and his traveling show, which was part circus and part rodeo.

Annie's act in the Buffalo Bill "show went something like this:

'Ladies and gentlemen!' cries the announcer.  'The Wild West presents the lovely lass of the Western Plains, Little Sure Shot -- the one and only Annie Oakley!'

Annie comes riding in on a fast little pinto pony.  She wears a buckskin dress with fringe and a big hat pinned with a silver star.  Her long brown hair flies out behind her.  She smiles at the audience.

A cowboy rides into the ring.  He races past Annie hurling clay targets into the air.  Annie leans way down from her galloping pony.  A pistol is on the ground.  Now it's in her hand!

"Bang! Bang!  Bang!  She hits each target at a full gallop.  Then she leaps off her pony.  She runs over to a table and picks up a rifle.  Her husband, Frank, throws six glass balls into the air.  Just for an instant they are points of light.  Then Annie aims -- and they're gone.  Frank whirls a glass ball on a string.  Annie watches it in a mirror.  She aims her gun backward.  Bang!  The ball disappears.

Now Frank holds up a playing card -- the ace of hearts.  Annie stands thirty feet away.  She takes aim.  Bang!  Her bullet goes right through the heart at the center of the card.  But Annie's not finished yet.  Frank turns the card sideways.  Is it possible?  Can she do it?  Yes!  She shoots the card in half.  Thousands of fans leap to their feet, shouting Annie's name.  She smiles and curtsies.  Then she's on her pony again, racing out of the ring.  She takes the hearts of the audience with her.  And makes Buffalo Bill's Wild West show the most popular entertainment in America" (Pages 29 to 32).

In 1887 Annie, and the entire Wild West show, traveled to England to help celebrate Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee.  "The show set up its tents and tepees on a huge field in London.  Annie got ready to perform in front of forty thousand people.  It was the biggest crowd she had ever seen.  But if Annie was nervous, no one could tell.  Her shooting was perfect.  The audience went wild.  The next day newspapers called her Annie Oakley of the Magic Gun.  After that, everyone in London wanted tickets.  Then a message came from Buckingham Palace.  Queen Victoria herself was coming to the show -- but only for an hour.  Everyone was very excited.  The Queen almost never went out in public.  Annie came on at the end of the show.  She could see Queen Victoria far across the ring -- a little old lady in black sitting on a platform covered with flowers.  The show was running late.  The Queen's hour was almost up.  Annie was disappointed.  Guess she won't see much of me, she thought.  But the Queen did not leave.  She sat through Annie's entire act. And when it was finished, she asked to meet her  The Queen was tiny and frail.  But her eyes sparkles as she pinned a medal to Annie's buckskin dress.  'You are a very, very clever little girl,' she said" (Pages 34 to 38).

Annie's next brush with royalty was when she was invited to shoot for the Emperor of Germany and his son, Crown Prince Wilhelm.  She went to Germany and "as usual, Annie put on a great show.  She shot clay pigeons.  She shot glass balls.  Her audience began to applaud her.  They were German princes, generals, and military men -- all good shots.  They had heard about Annie.  But they had not believed this tiny American woman could shoot so well.  She had surprised them.  Now their stern faces were smiling.  Things were going smoothly.  Annie was pleased.  Then she got the surprise of her life.  Crown Prince Wilhelm stepped into the ring.  He lit a cigarette and put it in his mouth.  An aide came up to Annie.  'The prince commands you to put his cigarette out by shooting off the tip,' he said.  'He says he has seen you do this and now you must do it again.'  Annie's heart began to thud.  She had done this trick many times before -- with her husband, Frank. But Crown Prince Wilhelm was the future emperor of Germany!  What if she missed?  What if she hit the prince?  That was too terrible to think about.  Annie gathered up all her courage.  She walked thirty paces from the prince.  She raised her rifle and smoothly took aim.  Crack!  The prince's head jerked back.  His cigarette was only a stub.  Annie had made the shot.  The audience broke into wild cheers.  Crown Prince Wilhelm gave Annie a bow.  She smiled sweetly.  Then she left the ring. Frank was waiting for her.  'That was really something, Annie," he said.  'That was the scariest moment of my life,' she answered" (Pages 40 to 44).

After spending three winters in Europe, Annie and Frank returned to the United States.  The couple settled in New Jersey but before long, Annie was once again starring in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
"Annie stayed with the show for almost seventeen years -- longer than any other performer.  Then, one night in 1901, the show was in a terrible train wreck.  Annie was hurt badly.  The shock was so great that her long dark hair turned completely white.  It was time, she decided, for a change.  She and Frank left the show for good" (Page 46).

Later, Annie starred in a show called "The Western Girl, which was written just for her.  She competed in shooting matches, won a fortune in prize money, and gave a lot of it to charities that helped poor children.  She taught thousands of women how to shoot.  She performed for the troops during World War I.  She raised money for the Red Cross.  And when the war was over, she kept on shooting.  She celebrated her sixty-second birthday by hitting a hundred clay pigeons in a row!" (Page 47).

Annie Oakley died on November 3, 1926 in Greenville, Ohio.  Frank died eighteen days later, on November 21. They are buried side by side at Brock Cemetery in Greenville.

"Annie first picked up a gun more than a hundred years ago.  Life was very different for women then.  They stayed at home and took care of the children.  They did not shoot guns.  They did not compete against men.  They did not move freely in the world, winning fame and fortune.  Annie Oakley did all of those things.  She was one in a million."   

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