As a mother of two girls, I look for books with female protagonists who aren’t limited by our culture’s definition of “feminine.” Pink and glitter are part of my daily life, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but I feel it’s important to share books with them that feature girls doing things, not girls doing circumscribed girly things. It can be a struggle to find books featuring girls in this light and to find books that appeal to both boys and girls, especially in the early independent reading category dominated by fairies and unicorns. Erica Silverman’s Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa is a winner in this regard.
Kate is an energetic, responsible, and caring young cowgirl. Her relationship with her horse, Cocoa, is one that reminds me of siblings — they are similar in personality and rely on one another, but they slightly annoy one another from time to time. The dynamic between people and animals in children’s books is often one-sided, but Kate and Cocoa interact as if peers. It’s fun to laugh at Cocoa pestering Kate for a snack when she’s all cozy and tucked in to bed, and the arguing over counting cows sounds vaguely like it’s coming from an old married couple. It’s clear that Kate and Cocoa love one another and work best as a team.
The book is both imaginative and rooted in reality. There is not a lot of fluff or whimsy, aside from the talking horse thing. Cowgirl Kate and “cowhorse” Cocoa have very practical work to do, and the story lines of the four very short chapters are also very practical. There is comfortable dialogue, humor, and accessible emotion. Early readers need repetition and a clear sequence of events. Silverman hits all those objectives without the story becoming awkward or stilted.
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa is illustrated by Betsy Lewin. The look is very comfortable, neutral, and warm, with strong black outlines to balance the soft colors. Lewin’s illustrations are descriptive and are closely tied to the text on each page. This makes the book pretty and makes the story easier for young readers to follow. It also offers adults the option of using the stories for a read along/aloud.
Children from preschool through second grade will enjoy the story, the illustrations, and the adventures of a spunky cowgirl and her ornery, beloved horse. There are several later books in the series, including Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Partners; Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: School Days; Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Rain or Shine; Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Horse in the House; and Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Spring Babies.