Four-year-old Janie is mad for horses, insists on wearing her ten-gallon hat to daycare and often to bed, and she must’ve watched Sheriff Callie about a dozen times already. Her heart’s at home on the range. If you’ve got a wee preschool cowgirl like her on your hands, you’ll know how hard it can be to get her to settle for quiet time! But reading together is one of the most important things we can do for our children.
To hold the attention of any rambunctious preschooler, a story needs action, adventure, great pictures you’ll want to look at over and over, a touch of humor or emotion, maybe a bit of a moral life lesson, and above all, a strong main character your child can identify with and care about. Disney movies and Saturday morning cartoons sure have that magic – and so do the authors and artists who’ve given us these 5 great wild west-themed books, ideal for a feisty preschooler with a pioneer girl’s spirit. Most of these books are aimed at ages 4 to 8, so preschool through to early readers, so they’re ideal for read-aloud story time with the little ones.
Read ‘Em, Cowgirls!
Poet-author Jeanne Willis teams up with illustrator Tony Ross on this wild and wonderful romp in the land of make-believe. The spunky little herioine at the heart of I Want To Be A Cowgirl refuses to be a “girly girl” – she’d rather roam and rampage with a pair of bananas as six-shooters at her side, in a fantasy of cowboys and robbers, with clouds that look like cactus, and a big wild western world just waiting beyond the reality of the big-city high-rise apartment where she lives. We love the ending, where she invites her patient Daddy to enter her imaginary play as a companion cowboy, but the best thing about this wonderful funny book has got to be the illustrations with hilarious details that tell even more of the story than the words do – hmm, I wonder, how did the shaggy rug get to have that hole in it, just the shape of a pair of chaps?
Going West is just one lovely book in the My First Little House series, which brings the magic of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House on the Prairie stories to a younger audience. If you grew up on stories of Jo Marsh and her sisters and can’t wait to share that world with your own little daughter, have a look at this series. In Going West, the March family leaves the Big Woods and sets out in a covered wagon, as so many American pioneer families did, westward bound for a new home on the prairie. Renee Graef’s gently nostalgic pictures, inspired by the original Garth Williams illustrations you’ll remember from your own childhood, add much to the gentle mood of stepping back in time.
Author-illustrator Stephen Gulbis delivers a rip-roaring good story of Cowgirl Rosie with bold beautiful pictures we loved. Rosie’s beloved pets are five baby bison (their names all start with the letter B, fun to say out loud as fast as possible!). When they’re rustled away one by one by the villainous Snakey Jake, the little cowgirl teams up with friendly Sheriff Joe to get her bison back again. We did have to have a chat about what kind of animals bison are (thank you, Nature Channel) but thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful moment when the cleverly hidden pets are revealed and restored to their rightful owner. Janie loves this book and “reads” it to her 3-year-old brother, who is learning his numbers by counting the bison.
If it drives you nuts that your kid is infatuated with the passive princess Cinderella, you’ll love Cindy Ellen as a alternative – and so will she. In Susan Lowell’s wild west twist on the old fairytale your preschooler will already know from the Disney canon, Cindy Ellen outwits her ornery stepmother with the help of her rip-roarin’ fairy godmother and steals the heart of the rancher’s son, Joe Prince, when she goes to the rodeo square dance all kitted out with diamond spurs. The message? “Magic is plumb worthless without gumption” and this western version of the fairytale princess has gumption a-plenty! Great fun, truly funny, and it’s a real hoot to do all the different voices. Jane Manning’s colorful illustrations are a great match for the positive energy of this delightful little book.
Here’s another retelling of a classic fairytale with a western theme, a first book from Texan horselover Erin Zweiner, beautifully illustrated by Merisha Sequoia Lemmer whose art reflects her Choctaw heritage. The story is a well crafted version of the old tale, in which Red uses her wits to defend her palomino pony from the threat of a mountain lion. Little Red Riding Boots (aptly subtitled ” (A Once Upon the West Fairy Tale)”) is a read-aloud-at-bedtime book for preschool Janie right now, but its familiar story with a western twist will surely still be a favorite when they’re a bit older and ready to read on their own.
America’s wild west is a fantastic setting for kids’ stories, a place somewhere between history and legend where courage lives, individual strength is rewarded, and the good guys always win. Where the wide open ranch grassland and plains roll out, clean and free, to meet a wide open sky. Where the small brave settlements of pioneer men and women knotched out small places of relative safety on the wild frontier…
What better role model in fiction for a horse-loving and imaginative preschool girl just starting to become her own person, than the active, adventurous, gumption-filled little cowgirls!