Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Partners Written by Erica Silverman, Illustrated by Betsy Lewin – Retro Review by Caroline Flory
I originally found the Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa books because of Colby Sharp and Mr. Schu’s #ReadGeisel challenge earlier this year. Honestly, I accidentally picked up the wrong book in the series! The first book in the series won the Geisel award, but I grabbed Partners, thinking it was the book on the list.
It was an awesome mistake.
Published by Harcourt in 2006, Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa: Partners is an early reader consisting of four short stories following the young, steadfast Cowgirl Kate and her spunky horse, Cocoa.
Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa complete common tasks in adventurous ways on the farm together. From Cowgirl Kate convincing Cocoa horseshoes are a good idea to searching for a missing calf in between games of hide-and-seek in the cornfield to herding cows and river splashes, the pair rely on each other, have fun together, and partake in chuckle-worthy conversations throughout these stories.
I grew up with horses. The relationship between Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa is exactly the relationship I always dreamed and pretended with my childhood horse: loyal, fun, conversational.
The author, Erica Silverman, keeps the language used fun, simple for early elementary ages to read, and full of giggles. The banter between Cocoa and Cowgirl Kate is silly at times, sweet at other times, and very age appropriate with a realistic flavor in the emotions shown. Cowgirl Kate remains the reasonable, logical one in many of the pair’s adventures, but Cocoa throws in intelligent remarks and clever reactions, as well.
“I want cowboy boots.”
“But Cocoa,” said Cowgirl Kate, “you are a horse.”
Cocoa snorted again.
“I am a cowhorse,” he said, “and I want cowboy boots, just like yours.”
(Of course! Why wouldn’t Cocoa want cowboy boots? It makes perfect, relatable sense!)
Each story shows a bit of growth, particularly for Cocoa, while offering fun antics. Cocoa and Cowgirl Kate are portrayed as equals in this best friend relationship, each partner with his/her own strengths.
The plotlines cycle around to include a couple of recurring jokes and side characters (namely, cows). These stories also introduce sub plots to young readers. The second chapter begins and ends with a story about hide-and-seek, but includes a secondary plot of finding a missing calf.
The illustrator, Betsy Lewin (who also illustrated Doreen Cronin’s Duck for President and others), captures the excitement and endearing nature of the friendship perfectly. The watercolor illustrations amplify the emotion shared in the words and exemplify Cocoa’s spunk and Cowgirl Kate’s joy. I love the hints of farm life included.
These stories all have a friendship focus to them, but in a subtle enough way to refrain from hitting the reader in the head with a too-obvious lesson. My kids and I chuckle as we watch Cocoa try on cowboy boots in the first story, shake our heads at Cocoa’s hunger-motivated fun in the second story, shout “Horseflies!” with Cowgirl Kate in the third story, and giggle at Cocoa’s heart-warming cleverness in the fourth story.
My son rides horses in a therapeutic riding environment (which I highly recommend for children with special needs), and the Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa books incorporate horse-centered vocabulary that he can then transfer to a real-life setting (“trot,” “pranced,” “hooves,” and more). Plus, many opportunities to practice varied speech sounds while reading.
Kids of all abilities in the preschool and elementary range can find interest in this friendship, the country setting, and the action. You might find your child or student reading these engaging chapters, then hopping up and riding their own cowhorse or roping a nearby chair.
Caroline Flory reads, writes, and breathes books – especially kidlit. A former elementary school teacher, she now works from home and reads throughout the day with her two little ones and her husband. She believes picture books and other kidlit can speak to all ages and learns as much from quality literature as her kids do. Her “to-read” piles are ever-growing, and she thinks the best decorating style is books, books, and more books. She loves Twitter (@Keep_Tha_Faith) and sharing books on Instagram (@carolineugmh). You can also visit her website.