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  • Children's book reviews by Jennifer Sykes

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Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman


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.


Pippi Fixes Everything, Pippi Longstocking Comics, by Astrid Lindgren & Ingrid Vang Nyman


pippiWhat’s old is new again, and this “reboot” of the classic Pippi Longstocking stories is sure to catch the interest of young readers.  Pippi Fixes Everything is one of a series of books that originally existed as comics from the 1950s and were recently translated to English for the first time.   Other titles include Pippi Moves In and Pippi Won’t Grow Up.

Pippi Longstocking is a spunky girl who has a lot of adventure in her life, and her stories are full of kid-appropriate drama and suspense.  Boys and girls alike will enjoy Pippi’s crazy ideas, heroics, and quips.  Pippi tricks burglars!  She rescues children from a burning building!  She has a tug of war contest with her father… using her teeth!  Who can resist this quirky protagonist and her many tales?  All the charm of the original stories and illustrations remains intact.

Graphic novels and comic books are wonderful for struggling or reluctant readers.  They offer illustrations for every brief snippet of text, allowing the child to make connections and improve comprehension.  These particular illustrations are very bold and colorful and directly related to the speaking character’s dialogue.  Each story within the book is only a few pages long, making it comfortable and not overwhelming.  Pippi Fixes Everything is also great for precocious early readers who are able to easily decode words but are still not ready for dense chapter books, or the more mature themes that are frequently found in chapter books.

Whether you are looking for a way to introduce a beloved classic character or are seeking a fun, appealing read for children in preschool through early elementary school, Pippi Fixes Everything is a solid choice.  The timeless themes and vintage charm are the same as they ever were — they are merely presented in a different and appealing way to make them readable and exciting to a new generation.


Bob & Rob & Corn on the Cob by Todd McQueen

robIf your kids are as silly as mine, they will definitely enjoy Todd McQueen’s Bob & Rob & Corn on the Cob.  Yes, even the title and cover make you grin.  Open the book to meet two squirrels, Bob and Rob, who happen to love corn on the cob.  They know a rabbit named Ella Mae Dobbs who most definitely does not love corn on the cob.  She’s a food snob who prefers “pan-seared tofu with carrots cut curly and hot cheese fondue.”  The squirrels attempt to convince her to taste corn on the cob by trying her favorites in return for her trying theirs.  When the corn on the cob is added to a kebab, one of Ella Mae Dobbs’ favorite foods, and heated with fire, there is a fun surprise that wins her over.

The story is very simple… and very adorable.  All kids will love the rhyme, and older kids will note how different fonts are used for effect.  There is a random robot at various points in the story, saying random things, and it really gets readers laughing.  Kids will relate to the persistence of Bob and Rob in trying to get all their friends to like their favorite thing, and some little chefs might find the refined palate of Ella Mae Dobbs similar to their own.

Where this book really shines is its illustrations.  They are quirky and playful and silly, and they are truly lovely, too.  When Rob is forced to try tofu, his little squirrel face goes green.  Ella Mae Dobs wears a fancy lace skull cap, ridiculous sunglasses (indoors?), and a stole.  Rob and Bob, themselves, are drawn in cute getups that kids will enjoy.

Lighthearted fun is expected whenever corn on the cob is being served, and this book really delivers.

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