Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa

Browsing the Backlist

Cowgirl Kate cover

  • Author: Erica Silverman
  • Illustrator: Betsy Lewin
  • Initial Release: 2005
  • Publisher: Harcourt

This is the first in what ultimately was a series of six books starring the lovable Cowgirl Kate and her proud, faithful steed, Cocoa. The whole series is an ode to friendship, and in that sense, the books are all really quite lovely. Through Kate and Cocoa’s adventures, kids can see that friendship can be a lot of fun…but also a lot of work.

In much the same way that children love to test the patience of the adults in their lives, Cocoa has a knack for testing Kate’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of patience. In many ways, Cocoa is like Kate’s younger sibling, and the dynamic between the two of them has clear parallels to the big sister/little brother relationship I see played out daily.

They adore spending time together, but this is not without a few sacrifices. For his part, Cocoa is very proud and loves to hear stories

I think we stumbled onto this series at exactly the right time. Zoey was just entering her “horse phase” and really wanted to be a cowgirl. Or maybe she wanted to be a cowhorse…she went through a period where she had to have peppermint candies (Cocoa’s favorite snack), even though she really doesn’t like peppermint candies. Horsie rides around our living room turned into “Cocoa rides.” I think you can guess who was Cocoa and who was Kate. “Giddyup Cocoa!”

original art from the last page of Horse in the House, signed to Zoey from Betsy Lewin for her third birthday

original art from the last page of Horse in the House, signed to Zoey from Betsy Lewin for her third birthday

There is certainly no surplus of books about horses written for young girls, but these titles really hit the sweet spot for Zoey. They’re a perfect stepping stone from picture book to chapter book, and they’re just fun to read aloud.

As a protagonist, Kate doesn’t succumb to stereotypes. She’s a strong, independent little girl (the parents are rarely seen) who thinks for herself and isn’t afraid to wield a little sass. Not only is she a good friend, she’s also a very responsible farmhand and horse owner. There are many valuable lessons to be gleaned from these books.

The first book was a 2006 Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor book. Erica Silverman’s text is obviously what makes these books such a joy to read, but Betsy Lewin’s art is what really made these such home runs in our house. Lewin uses watercolor washes to create a distinctive style that jumps off the page and distinguishes itself from more run-of-the-mill modern children’s books. You can see the brush strokes, which adds to the imaginative nature of the books. Note to publishers: It’s refreshing to see art made by hand rather than by computer. Let’s see more.

All six titles are wonderful, and I recommend them all. Unfortunately, the series is at an end. The last book (Spring Babies) came out in 2010, and there won’t be any more. It’s a loss to cowgirls and cowgirl dreamers everywhere.

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Jamie is a publishing/book nerd who makes a living by wrangling words together into some sense of coherence. He's the founder and owner of The Roarbots and also a contributor to Syfy Wire, StarWars.com, and GeekDad. On top of that, he hosts The Great Big Beautiful Podcast, which celebrates creativity in popular culture, science, and technology by talking to a wide variety of people who contribute to it.

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