About a month and a half ago, I recommended the book How to Be a Lion (be sure to find that post if you missed it, as that is an amazing book!). Upon reading that recommendation, a friend suggested that I check out Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler (this was her first book!) and illustrated by Jonathan Bean (we love his work in Building Our House and The Apple Pie that Papa Baked). I finally got it from the library, and it is indeed wonderful as well! Hoefler and Bean take often-idolized, though not always role model-worthy figures, and break those characters down to prove that we might want our children to grow up to be cowboys after all.
Real Cowboys defies the rough-and-tumble, shoot-‘em-up image that many young children have of cowboys. Rather than quick to fight, loud, and hardened, Hoefler fairly convincingly argues that cowboys are, in fact, much softer and kinder than our children usually believe. They are tender (they care deeply for their animals), they seek peace (chaos can be detrimental to their herd), they are good listeners (always aware of what their cows, their friends, the weather, and other animals around them are saying), etc. Essentially, cowboys exhibit positive qualities that we want our children to embody.
Hoefler’s text is quiet and steady, just as we might imagine the cowboys she is describing are. And these illustrations! Bean uses 4 colors layered on top of each other, and the effect is stunning. The cowboys are easy to find on each page, but the layered backgrounds often become more abstract, giving the audience plenty to contemplate.
Worth noting— Hoefler does indeed include the ideas that cowboys can be women and “real cowboys are as many different colors as the earth.” On those pages, the illustrations diversify appropriately, but throughout the rest of the book, they seem to lack gender and racial diversity. I don’t feel that this detracts from the overall message of the book, but it’s worth letting you know!
Publishers suggest this for ages 4-7. My 3-year-old daughter enjoyed it, and I love the idea of using this as a mentor text with older children, maybe for writing projects aiming to break down inaccurate stereotypes.
If you like this, check out:
How to Be a Lion by Ed Vere
The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
Tough Boris by Mom Fox
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
The Storybook Knight by Helen Docherty
Does anyone else have “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” in your head now? You’re welcome.