Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hobby Horse Hill
Lavinia R. Davis, il. Charles Beck
Pictured edition - 1966 Scholastic paperback

Terry didn't have time to care. She was too busy getting settled on Pigeon's broad back. You couldn't get a grip at all in silk pajamas, and the leathers chafed her knees. None of the grown-ups was going along. She was off for a long afternoon on this uncomfortable pony, and nobody to help her but Rod and Kate. It was like riding in your night clothes in a bad dream.

Poor Terry! Packed off to stay with 'the wild Wades,' her cousins in rural Conneticut, while her parents go to Europe, she's intimidated by their careless ways and their effortless mastery of riding. She knows how to ride, but somehow her lessons on quality horses back home don't seem to have prepared her for tearing along the rocky back hills on a feisty little no'account pony like Frosty Roan, in the wake of her madcap cousins. And her first outing is to a fancy-dress horse drill, where a mysterious milkmaid rescues her from own own ill-chosen Chinese pajama outfit. But she adapts, and soon the cousins are engrossed with a mystery centered on their beloved boarder, Cassandra, the beautiful Irish hunter.

One of those beloved horse books that comes up every time horse nuts discuss horse books from their childhood, "Hobby Horse Hill" is the fish-out-of-water story involving horses. Betty Cavanna's very similar Spurs For Suzanna came out in 1957, and the nearly 20-year difference is notable. Terry may be concerned with clothing and manners, but she's very much a child. It's never quite clear exactly how old she is, but she's at least 12, and yet there is no suggestion of an interest or awareness in boys or approaching adolescence. She and her cousins Rod and Kate are all about riding, playing and exploring the countryside. Her fears and problems are a child's - embarassment at being made to seem ignorant, anger at being dismissed as incompetent, desire to 'show' others.

Even more obviously last-century is the earlier book's ease with it's wild vs. civilized equation. In Cavanna's book, while the city girl does learn the value of the wild farm kid's approach to life, the farm kids also discover some value in her's - her love of books and her mastery of urban life impress them. In Davis's book, the quieter girl finds her inner hoyden too, but the country kids simply dismiss her as a 'siss' until she learns to imitate them, and there is never any intimation that the way she was raised might have anything they might desire. That is a blatant ripoff of classic English children's stories; the Brits had a penchant for stories in which the heroes are forever being effortlessly superior to those around them, and nobody ever questions the grounds for that superiority by saying, for example, hey, you're so pale I can see through you and your voice sounds like a tweety bird.

Cassandra - chestnut mare, hunter
Magda - grey farm mare
Hobby Horse - brown and white colt, Magda's foal
Pigeon - gray pony mare
Virginia Girl - mare
Frosty Roan - red roan gelding

Dogs/Other Animals
Trix - fox terrier
Blaze - setter
Rubber - cocker spaniel?
Sylvia - goat

About the Author
According to the website, Davis wrote over 43 books, some under the name Wendell Farmer. A collection of her diaries, The Journals of Lavinia Riker Davis, was published in 1964.


Other books by Lavinia R. Davis
Buttonwood Island (1940) (il. Paul Brown)
Pony Jungle (1941) (il. Gordon Ross)
Plow Penny Mystery (1942( (il. Paul Brown)
Melody, Muttonbone And Sam (1947) (il. Paul Brown)
The Secret Of Donkey Island (1952)
Sandy's Spurs (1951)
Donkey Detective (1955)

No comments: