Southwest Children's  Literature

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Billy the Kid

Curriculum Connections:

Ideas for students:
The Library of Congress American Memory web site ( could be utilized to research some fun and educational projects:

1. After researching the real Billy, students compose their own reader's theatre, and compare this Billy to the Billy they have read in Theodore Taylor's book.

2. Students put on a pretend talk show, where a student portraying Billy is grilled by the host as to who he really is, and what he has to say for himself.

3. Students take locations portrayed both in Theodore Taylor's "Billy the Kid" and the real Billy the Kid's story and map Billy's travels, learning more about the Southwestern locations in the process.

4. Students enact a "trial" for Billy, with some students acting as character witnesses in Billy's defense while others testify on behalf of the State. Ideally, the jury would be composed of students who have NOT read Billy the Kid or done any research about him.

5. Students use the novel as a jumping-off point for creative writing in a historical context. They may choose to rewrite the book's ending or write a "What Happened Next" about any of the book's characters. They may also choose to research a different historical figure, such as Doc Holliday or Wyatt Earp, and write a short story involving them and drawing on their research.

6. Students research crime in the Old West to discover facts and figures about how common it was, how the outlaws were usually treated when captured (if captured), and what their sentences were. They then compare this information to our current justice system and our laws and sentences for comparable crimes.

7. Students read Taylor's note on the Real Billy the Kid and discuss the implications of romanticizing such a criminal. They then compose a whole-class letter to Theodore Taylor, posing any questions that might have occured to them during their reading or discussion.

8. Students debate whether Billy the Kid can be considered a folk-hero (how was he percieved when he was alive vs. how he is percieved now). They then compare him to other criminal folk-heroes, such as John Dillinger or Bonny and Clyde.
Extension: Students discuss and try to answer the question of why we are fascinated with criminals and what it says about us as a society.

9. Students answer a set of "what-if" questions: What if Billy had stayed working at the ranch in Mexico? What if he instead of Willie had married Kate?
What if Billy had shot one of the outlaws during their first meeting? What if Billy had said "no" to robbing the train? What if Billy hadn't escaped from jail? Students then compose their own and try to answer each other's "what-if"

10. In groups, students write and act out a 60-second retell of the novel, OR students may write and act out a "pitch" for the novel as a movie to a film producer.


Reasons to read Billy the Kid:
1. Provides critical understanding of making a choice that has consequences
2. Page turning action/excitment
3. Familiar setting
4. Possible author study
5. Possible Southwestern genre study
6. Possible pairing with informational books, particularly frontier Arizona

Reasons not to read Billy the Kid:
1. Rates 3 stars out of 5 stars
2. Limited YA identification with Billy
3. Limited aesthetic response
4. Limited powerful mental visual images
5. Limited interest in Old West, "cowboy," books
6. A romanticized Billy, opposite of the real gunslinger

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