Friday, February 13, 2009

Wild Pony Island
Stephen Meader, il. Charles Beck
1959, Harcourt Brace

14-year-old Rick Landon is a sullen, fatherless kid growing up in an impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood. When he gets into a gang, his mother decides to move the little family south to her home town, the North Carolina island of Ocracoke. There Rick is transformed from listless punk to clean-cut boy by the influences of small town life, the country's only equine Boy Scout troop and a stern male relative. And, of course, his love for the palomino stallion called Dandelion.

The writing is disappointing. The indirect voice and awkward sentence construction saps interesting and eventful scenes of most of their life:

Rick hung on. One spine-jarring jolt followed another, but he managed to land back in the saddle each time. Then the young horse sunfished, twisting in the air till his rider was dizzy. Both feet had lost the stirrups now, and Rick knew his luck was about to run out.

Rick's desire to be a cowboy is fulfilled on Ocracoke, where apparently only boys ride the wild ponies. His mother, raised on the island, meets Dandelion one day; her lordly young son tells her to feed the horse an apple, and "She held the fruit out timidly." The breaking methods come across as brutal and ridiculous today - did the kid really have to climb on a young horse the very first time he'd ever been in a corral? The villain of the piece, Windy Jenkins, is the only unfriendly kid on the island and he's quickly dispatched.

Very nearly not a horse book at all. Most of the ponies aren't given names, and are treated much like taxis - if you want to ride, you go look for a herd and grab a pony; when you're done riding you just slap them on the flank and off they go back to the herd. The ponies wander everywhere through the village and feed themselves, are released after every ride to go run wild again. I have my doubts about how they release the stallion Dandelion after both his breaking and his triumph as herd stallion - surely it would be hard to recapture him to ride? Rick is portrayed as being fond of and considerate of his pony, sheltering him from a hurricane (oddly, though, he rides around looking for Dandelion and once he finds him, abandons the pony he was initially riding to the weather without a second thought) and the like. But the horse sections are flat and unconvincing.

Charles Beck's illustrations, warm and simple and realistic, are the best part of the book.

Sweet Sue - chestnut mare, roping horse in NYC rodeo
Satan's Child - blue roan bronco in NYC rodeo
Old Horny - brown bronco at NYC rodeo
Dandelion - palomino stallion

Horse Show
Missing Daddy
I'm a TROUBLED teen (but not like, you know, on heroin)
Born Free! Free as the wind blows....

Other books by Author
Red Horse Hill
Cedar's Boy

About the Author
Meader was born in 1892 and died in 1977. He had strong ties in the Philadelphia area, graduating from Haverford College and working at Philly companies Curtis Publishing Company, Holmes Press, and ad agency N.W. Ayer and Son. Several of his fifty-plus books for children were set in southern New Jersey, where he eventually settled down in first Moorestown and then Cape May Courthouse, and in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania.

Source: The Stephen Meader Collection at the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at The University of Southern Mississippi, and the bio section on the Southern Skies website.

As of 2006, Meader's books were being reissued under the name Southern Skies

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