Monday, March 16, 2009

Gather your corned beef and grab a handful of cinnamon potatoes. Tis time to be speaking like a lucky charms commercial, don't you know. Top o' the mornin' to ye, and t'ings like that. First, a little backstory. Ireland, an unnervingly pretty country with an unnervingly ugly history, spent quite a big chunk of the 19th and 20th centuries exporting its citizenry across the ocean to the United States. The arrival of grubby masses of Catholics who liked alcohol and the pope horrified the severely Protestant nation. But things changed. By 1963, things had changed a lot. Jimmy Cagney, Gene Kelly and Patrick O'Brien had spent years atop the box office. The smarmy, tombstone-toothed John Kennedy had been elected president of the United States. Booze was legal.

But from these advances, a worse threat was born. The Irish-American myth. In The Fighting 69th, a 1940 film about a famous Irish-American army regiment in World War I, Jimmy Cagney's character shrugs off the pride and pageantry of the unit with the immortal words "I'm Irish - but I don't work at it." Sadly, most fictional Irishmen work hard at it. And as the Irish have a much-storied fondness for horses, the professional Irishman is the proverbial bad penny of mid-20th century children's horse books. C.W. Anderson was a terrible offender, but his art distracted the outraged mind. Selma Hudnut has no such help.

A Horse Of Her Own
Selma Hudnut, il. Rus Anderson
1963, D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc.

Rosemary O'Connor, orphaned after a car accident kills her racehorse trainer and professional Irishman father (also her mother, though she doesn't seem as cut up about that), is living in horseless purgatory in Las Parra, California. Like many another horsey heroine, she manages to ingratiate herself (all wide-eyed and unaware) with the local horsey set, and scores a set of riding opportunities with wealthy Mr. Sedgewick, and makes best friends with his daughter Cindy. Her bete noir is Red, real name Harry Sharpe, who manages the stable of the very wealthy Mr. Medford. It's in Medford's Fallow Field Stables that she finds the horse of her dreams, an Irish horse named Dublin Jack. But Jack is hurt, and Red is neglecting him.

..a brown horse standing by the wall, his head low and lifeless. The near front leg, which he was holding off the ground, was covered from the knee down in voluminous bandages, bloody and soiled. His neck was thin and his ribs showed, his mane snarled with neglect, his coat stark.

Red is apparently a drunk who caused Jack's injuries; now, he's not treating the dying horse. And for plot-based reasons, none of the people who know about the situation - two grooms and a vet, of all people - will intervene. But by golly, Rosemary will.

Rosemary is a spunky heroine, and the supporting cast is strong. The plot is thin, even by horsey standards, but the action is interesting and the resolution satisfying. And the horsey details are deeply enjoyable:

She'd already cleaned out Irish's stall clear to the bottom, put lime down, and brought in fresh bedding. She'd made him a bran mash, given him his medication, sponged his face, and checked for signs of rubbing from the sling.

One quibble: I think I've seen this little gem in only 99% of children's books with female protagonists (and, since the start of the Sensitive Male era, not a few of those with male protagonists)

She knew she was too thin and too pale.

Oh, lord, grant me patience. Try being too fat and red, and then get back to me about the humanity.

Oddities - the Sedgwick farm has barbed wire in places. Also, that all the kids are encouraged to call a grown man by his nickname, Red, and that a book that goes all blarney on the Irish also contains a portrait of a drunken layabout.

Understudy - brown gelding
Silver Sea - fleabitten gray gelding
Mommie - bay mare, retired jumper
Chap - chestnut Thoroughbred
Sister Sue - brown mare

About Selma Hudnut
According to the dust jacket, Hudnut learned to ride in college, was a judge in the AHSA, and a contributor to The Chronicle of the Horse.

Other Books
The Redhead And The Roan
Irish Hurdles


Anonymous said...

I just had to let you know that I LOVE this book. I own a beat-up old copy of it, and I still read it over and over. It always makes my heart glad when she helps change the barn and rescues Irish. I've read it since I was a little girl. Thanks for posting information on it!

For the Tennessee Walking Horse
When the Painted Horse Comes
The Murder of the English Language

Sarah said...

Hey, you're welcome! Thanks for reading.