Cowboy and Pirate Books for Everyone

Share these terrific books that span all ages and grade levels with your children.

By Erin Bailey


teacher reading to students

On a recent trip to the bookstore, I was drawn to a jaunty display of books featuring cowboys and pirates. While we usually consider such characters as more suitable for younger grades, slightly older audiences would also enjoy the following selections.

Cowboy Ned and Andy by David Ezra Stein

Reading Level: Ages 4 and Up

Genre: Fiction

Cowboy Ned and Andy is filled with simple, chunky line paintings. I can already envision students sitting down to create their own desert landscapes. The plot is a simple one – on the eve of his birthday, Cowboy Andy is feeling a little lonely without any of his family around. His faithful companion and horse, Andy, hates to see Ned so dejected and tries to think of the perfect present to cheer him up. Andy steals away in the middle of the night in search of a birthday cake. To his disappointment, the cricket, the owl, and the scorpion cannot help Andy in his quest. Finally, he encounters a banjo-playing cowboy who suggests that perhaps a cake isn’t the only present that Ned would like. Andy gallops back to camp to give Cowboy Ned the gift he really needs – a friend to share his birthday.

While younger listeners will enjoy the rhymes, an older audience will benefit from the vivid language. Stein’s writing is full of beautiful imagery to which teachers should draw attention. “His voice was soft, like hooves on sand…” Have students think of their own metaphors and prepare to be amazed. One quick way to practice this is to have them write down several personality traits, such as “I am funny.” Then ask them turn it into a metaphor. “I am as funny as a Three Stooges marathon.” Sharing these aloud will help those who are struggling with this concept.

Stein’s verbs – scurry, snipped, clatter – can also help learners enliven their own writing. Ask those who have studied parts of speech to write down any verbs they hear while you read. Then the class can engage in acting them out charades style. With younger readers, be sure to define any unfamiliar words.

Wild Women of the West by Jonah Winter Illustrated by Susan Guevara

Reading Level: Ages 8 and Up

Genre: Nonfiction

Although written for the intermediate grades, this book is full of eye-catching portraits that will likewise capture the attention of a younger audience. These one-page biographies sketch the lives of fifteen women whose adventurous spirits helped shape a nation while breaking the rules of how women should behave.

In addition to such well-known names as Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley, Jonah Winter also includes fascinating entries like Mary Fields. Mary was a former slave, who at the age of sixty years-old, became a stagecoach driver for the US Postal Service.

The author does a good job of conveying the contributions these women made in the context of their own time and place. If you are seeking to balance the many stories that portray girls as weak or dependent on men, this is the book! Small groups can select one of the women and act out a skit of her accomplishments. Other groups can then try to guess which wild woman of the West is being portrayed.

Pirateria: The Wonderful Plunderful Pirate Emporium by Calef Brown

Reading Level: Ages 6 and Up

Genre: Fiction

Like the others, this book will span grade-levels. Full of witticisms like, “We put the ‘arg’ in bargain,” the book’s humor is sly and the pictures are a delight. Rather than being a typical plot-driven story, the book is a lengthy advertisement for a pirate super-store. Numerous examples for the ways that products are marketed to consumers fill its pages. The clever rhymes make it easy to forget that these pirates are trying to make a sale. After evaluating the effectiveness of hooks such as “Buy one galleon, get one free,” young entrepreneurs can design their own business and write their own advertisements. When paired with the Don't Buy It website from PBS, which teaches children to be savvy consumers, Pirateria will open young eyes to the methods used in getting products sold.

The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle

Reading Level: Ages 4 and Up

Genre: Fiction

From the author and illustrator of The Pirate Cruncher comes this delightful story for pre-school and kindergarten. Clever rhymes and giggle-worthy illustrations will keep listeners engaged while sending the message that being different doesn’t make a person bad. Before reading it, ask children to imagine that a new neighbor is moving in. What traits would make a person be a good neighbor or a bad neighbor?

When new neighbors move into the creepy house next to Matilda, she finds them fascinating but others do not: “They never wash. Their kids have lice. They just don’t smell all that nice.” As Matilda plunges into the pirate way of life, she discovers the reasons they have come, and also the reasons that the pirates will leave. When they pull up anchor in the middle of the night, readers are treated to a fabulous foldout of the neighborhood showing each yard marked by an X.  As the neighbors dig up such treasures as golden crowns and strands of jewels, they suddenly have a new opinion of the pirates. “What a shame they left…I’ll miss those darling rats.” With bright pictures and plucky text, The Pirates Next Door is just the sort of read aloud that kids adore!


Bill Pickett: Bulldoggin' Cowboy

A lesson from Agriculture in the Classroom seeks to change the perception that all cowboys were white. After reading about Bill Pickett, who gained fame on the rodeo circuit, learners will complete a worksheet and design their own commemorative postage stamp of a deserving person.

The Cowboy Life

In this highly-rated lesson for 3rd through 8th grades, children time travel to the Old West to complete four projects. Choices include investigating the role and importance of horses, listening to music from the period and writing an original song, and creating a trading card for a famous cowboy.

Pirate Archaeology

Although it requires a large time commitment, this combines technology, reading, and geography for middle graders to write a report about what might be found on a sunken pirate ship. Young scholars investigate where in the world pirates sailed and consider how trade routes affected these locations. Then they chart where ships might have sunk and what might have been on board.