Monday, May 23, 2016

Star Rider (1985) or Choose Your Own Adventure goes Pony Book

 Star Rider
Carole Carreck, il. Steve Jones (cover)  Peter Wilkes (internal)
1985, Puffin Books

You, the reader, are the heroine of this story. You have ridden horses all your life and have great natural ability as a rider. You have secretarial qualifications, but your one ambition in life is to own a good horse and make a career for yourself riding. 

A choose-your-own-adventure style pony book from the UK, this loopy (literally) role-playing game/book kicks off with your purchase of a show pony named Braid.  The action quickly expands to include two handsome, mysterious, occasionally smitten men and a lot of ambitious decision-making about the best course of action to bring Braid and you to your full potential.

I really can't resist a book with a horse on the cover. I remember the days of the CYOA books (the 1980s) and I think I liked the American version better.  There's something slightly alarming about having a book assert that I (or, as they put it, YOU) am driving Range Rovers through Wales while arguing about bloodsports and exclaiming "Bother!" when passing a woman on a push-bike.  And yet, the format is fun.  Something I'd almost forgotten until skimming this one just now is that the adventures can end badly. Braid (what a name!) can become too injured to compete. You can become too injured to compete.  And in the startlingly brutal final words of several possible storylines, "Your adventure ends here." 

This series, "Starlight Adventures," was designed to appeal to girls (the CYOAs were often horror/mystery series, and typically appealed to boys) and appear not to be related to each other. In other words, this was the only horsey one.
Review of Star Rider 
Review of Star Rider

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Winter Horse (2014)

The Winter Horses
Philip Kerr, il. Eva Kolenko (cover)
2014, Alfred A. Knopf, imprint of Random House
(paperback is Ember imprint of RH)

“Oh, the Przewalski’s are strong, sir. None stronger. And they’re clever, too. Resourceful. Cunning, even.”

In late 1941, zookeeper Maxim Borisovich Melknik is the only worker left at the State Steppe Nature Reserve of the Ukraine, or Askaniya-Nova. The Germans, busy expanding their eastern front, have arrived in the form of a group of SS led by Captain Grenzmann. Maxim, who recalls the German founder of Askaniya-Nova with great fondness and is not the most enthusiastic of Communists, is prepared to give Grenzmann and his men the benefit of the doubt.  Until they start eating his animals.  

The reserve consists of a zoo and a large wildlife preserve; the crown jewel of this remote Soviet park is the herd of Przewalski horses.  Grenzmann, a restless German, begins almost immediately to search for a way to eradicate these “inferior” horses. He’s largely successful, but a breeding pair (Temukin and Borte) escapes and the increasingly obsessed Nazi launches a hunt for the dangerously fertile horses.

At the same time, a member of another dangerously inferior race is hiding out at the reserve.  Kalinka, a Jewish girl who’d barely escaped the mass murder of her family, is making the reserve one more stop in her endless journey of escape:

“Three uncles, three aunts, my brothers, my sisters, my grandparents, my great-grandmother, and all my cousins. Everyone had to gather in the botanical gardens in our city. Which is where it happened. I mean, where they and all the others were killed. Not just my family. But every family. At least, every family that was Jewish. Fifteen or twenty thousand people. I’m not sure.”

Kalinka is charmed by her encounters with the herds of Przewalski, and horrified when the Germans machine-gun most of them. But that horror is only the latest in her histories of grief and death, and she almost immediately has to worry about surviving a Russian winter.

Maxim and his dog, a Borzoi/Russian Wolfhound named Taras, help Kalinka survive a blizzard, but she can’t stay there. Grenzmann’s passion to kill those last horses leads him straight to Kalinka, who must run again.

Przewalski horses are, as the book admits, wild. You do not ride them, you do not halter or pet them. They’re closer to zebras than to ponies. During the first half of the book, the horses are shown to be smart and insightful and a little more accepting of handling than you’d expect, which the humans note and chalk up to their extreme need.  But in the second half of the book, as Kalinka sets out alone into the snowy landscape with only the horses and Taras for company, the animals become the drivers of the action and all but speak to one another. Kalinka, dependent on the horses for warmth at the very least, is briefly the dependent of the animals.

With jaws bared viciously, the first wolf – a big male – launched himself like a streak of snarling gray lightning at the girl, only to be met by a perfectly judged double kick from Temujin as both the stallion’s rear hooves lashed out in unison and connected very solidly with the wolf’s body

Despite the hostility of the wolves (historically symbolic of the Nazis), the worst, most enduring dangers come from humans.  For a time, all the humans they encounter are brutal monsters. 

An interesting book, blending realism and a WWII legend nicely.

About the Author
Kerr is best known for a series of spy thrillers, but has also written other children's books under the name P.B. Kerr.
Kirkus review
Book optioned for animated film 
Author website
Website for Askaniya-Nova

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Robin Kane: The Mystery of the Blue Pelican (1966)

Robin Kane: The Mystery of the Blue Pelican
Eileen Hill, il. Sylvia Haggander
1966, A Whitman Book, Western Publishing Co.

Robin Kane, 13, lives in Pacific Point, California with her parents, 14-year-old brother Kevin and younger sister Amy.  Best friend Melinda Hunter’s father Maxfield is a film and TV producer who’s bringing his latest project Changeling to town and casting the Kane kids and his own stable of palomino horses – including Robin’s beloved Nugget – as extras.  Most excitingly, the star of Changeling is teen sensation Moira Rafferty, and she’s going to visit the Kane household!

This is the first book of the series, and at best, it’s just too simple to be an enjoyable read for an adult. And there are a few too many mid-century nightmares, from Mexican mamacitas to Irishmen lilting charmingly about leprechauns. I’m going to be lazy here and refer you to another website for a nice summation of the book. I quit after the third chapter. In my defense, I was reading it for this blog and Robin’s reaction to hearing her horse had vanished is to be sad, finish dinner and go to bed for some bad dreams about her lost horse.  Not very horse-book-heroine, Robin.  Her horse, Nugget, doesn’t actually appear until near the end, so overall not really a great example of a pony/horse book.

More complete review at Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

The Mystery of the Blue Pelican
The Mystery of the Phantom
The Mystery of Glengary Castle
The Candle Shop Mystery
Mystery in the Clouds
The Monster of Wolf Point

Friday, December 25, 2015

Flying Roundup (1957)

Flying Roundup
Genevieve Torrey Eames, il. Lorence F. Bjorklund
1957, Julian Messner, Inc.

The noise grew louder and around the base of the mountain came a small band of horses, manes and tails flying and a cloud of dust swirling about them, kicked up by their galloping hoofs.  Johnny’s heart raced at the sight.  The leaders started into the valley, halted and swerved away again.  Then, above the hoofbeats, came the roar of a motor and a small yellow plane swung into sight, following the horses and flying so low it seemed almost to skim the brush and willows along the stream.  As the horses hesitated it circled out to head them off and then roared up behind them, sending them in a mad stampede up the valley.

Johnny Shaw is dozing, postponing the end of a camping trip, when he sees a roundup of wild horses, dominated by an airplane.  The scene is brutal – the terrified herd runs down and crushes a foal, and the cowboys frankly tell Johnny that the wild horses being driven into a truck are destined for a cannery – but Johnny’s torn.  The pilot is the father of his two best friends, Dan and Linda Cameron.  Vern is newly home from Korea, and trying to use his Air Force skills to tide over his new ranch.  Johnny recognizes the family’s genuine need, but when he spots an overlooked band of wild horses, he heads into the hills to find a way to get them moving before anyone else spots them.

There are two kinds of children’s books – those where the villains are the villains, and those where the villains are really just people you don’t know well enough.  This is the latter.  Johnny comes to understand where Vern’s coming from, and how the money from his flying roundups is intended for good, and somehow the early scene with the agonized foal is overwritten.  It’s not very satisfying. 

About the Author

Other books by Eames (horse)
Pat Rides The Trail (1946) il. Dan Noonan
A Horse To Remember (1947) il. Paul Brown
The Good Luck Colt (1953) il. Paul Brown
Ghost Town Cowboy (1957) il. Paul Brown

Other books by Eames (dog)
Handy of the Triple S (1949) il. Paul Brown

Short Stories
Jarvis Discovers Gold" appears in the anthology Horses, Horses, Horses: Palominos And Pintos, Polo Ponies And Plow Horses, Morgans And Mustangs edited by Phyllis Fenner
Someday I’ll Race Him in Young Wings – the Magazine of the Boys’ and Girls’ Club

Monday, September 7, 2015

Last Hurdle (1953_

Last Hurdle
F.K. Brown, il. Peter Spier
1953, Thomas Crowell (not shown)

With a sigh, she tipped her head back and stared up at the soaring board sides of the barn. Sunlight slid down through the open half of the stable door to bathe the big box stalls with light. In her imagination, she saw heads moving among the shadows behind the barred upper halves of the stalls, and she could almost hear the soft fluttering of nostrils, the stamp of hoofs.

Katherine Nelson’s family has moved to a falling-down farm, and although she has never been on or near a horse, she is determined to acquire one. She’s already stalking the local horse owners, showing up when a nearby farmer is taking his team in for the day and beguiling a ride:

Half of her mind kept singing “This is the first time I’ve ever been on a horse! I’m riding a horse – a horse!” while the other half kept trying to remember all the things she had read in her horse books: how to grip with the knees, how to hold the reins in both hands, how to keep the ankles straight, heels down. But she was far too excited to think very clearly, so she just sat there, smiling happily to herself and riding.

Kathy and obliging little brother Ned join finances to liberate an abused, neglected horse from a careless owner, with the encouragement of hired man Willie.  Their parents, initially amused at their game, realize suddenly that the kids aren’t just being imaginative, they actually did manage to buy a horse.

“You what?” her mother shrieked, rising from her chair and almost tipping it over in her haste. “You did what? What on earth are you talking about?”

Kathy names the black horse with a white face Baldy, and nurses him back to health.  And naturally, her thoughts turn to further achievement.  Now that Baldy’s healthy again, she begins to jump him and plots to enter him in a local show.  The show, held at a country club over the Memorial Day weekend, is very obviously over Kathy’s head – just figuring out what classes to enter him in is difficult, and at every step, Kathy has doubts.

She imagined herself falling off at the first jump; she heard the spatter of laughter from the stands and the echo of a derisive bugle. Only too clearly, she saw Baldy plowing through the rails, sending splintered wood flying in all directions.

And even before the show starts, Kathy runs into more problems.  There is, of course, a happy ending with a victorious Kathy already starting to dream of more horses.
Brisk pace, nice style and funny little drawings.  Well worth a read.

Other editions
1953 Crowell
1970 Apollo paperback
1988 Linnet Books

About the Author
Frieda Kenyon Brown (1920-2011)
Brown was born in Philadelphia to a father named, wonderfully, Benjamin Franklin II (whose son was named Benjamin Franklin III); her unusual middle name was her mother’s maiden name.  Raised on an apple farm, she loved farm life.  She attended Bryn Mawr College and joined the American Red Cross during World War II. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom for her work in field hospitals in France and Germany with the 3rd Army, and married Lt. William Douglas Brown in 1945.  His military career kept them on the move, but after he retired, they followed her father to North Carolina, where Brown finally got a farm of her own in Pisgah Forest. She had 2 children.  

As a writer, she mostly collaborated on nonfiction with Claude Frazier Albee, as well as writing under the pseudonym F.K. Franklin. This appears to be her sole horsey book.

The 2012 film version of the popular 2008 young adult novel The Hunger Games was filmed in the Pisgah National Forest.