Monday, April 6, 2009

Mule Day!

Yesterday was the final day of the 2009 celebration of Mule Day in Columbia, Tennessee. A deceased horse trainer got his final wish to ride in the parade when his ashes were carried on a mule-drawn wagon. A thunderstorm scattered attendees. A mule spooked into a vendor cart during the parade, causing some scratches to a child riding on his wagon. Logs were hauled in competition. And an old Mule Day veteran, Martha, was missed on the first celebration since her death last year. Mule Day's Queen this year was Rachael Ethridge, a 21-year-old Susan Lucci of the contest who won in this, her final year of eligibility.

News Stories
Man Gets Last Wish to Ride in Mule Day Parade
Mule Spooks
Log-Hauling Competition
Martha Missed
Mule Day Queen

Other Mule News
A retired Tennessee man (of course) is driving his mules, Mack and Jack, out to Phoenix to see his sister. Accompanying them is a Blue Tick Heeler named Britt. They have a website chronicling their adventures.

And here, because I am slightly more prepared with American events than British, is a perfectly on-topic review.

Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley
Marguerite Henry, il. Bonnie Shields
1996, Simon & Schuster

Tennessee girl Molly is devastated when her happy-go-lucky father buys her an old mare at auction instead of one of the shiny foals who would be as impressive as Freddy Westover's Tennessee Walking Horses. She slowly becomes inured to the reality that Pops really bought the horse for himself, and even becomes interested in the slow rehab of Lady Sue. But her enthusiasm only returns when Lady Sue has a surprise for them - she gives birth to a baby mule.

It seems a bit odd that Molly spends the first three chapters in a snit because her dad doesn't buy her a breathing Breyer, but instantly loves the idea of owning a mule. It seems even more odd that she takes almost no role in raising the mule - her dad and Freddy and a neighbor do all the work and Molly seems like an afterthought. But when Brown Sunshine is named the King Mule for Columbia's annual Mule Day parade, Molly reappears as she dresses like a princess to ride on the float with him.

It feels wrong to say anything bad about Henry, who was one of the classic American writers of horse books. But Henry's major flaw even as far back as Misty was her sexism. Beyond an accounting of how many times a boy gets to do something exciting in her books v. the number of times a girl does, there's just a lack of interest that's almost palpable in Henry when it comes to female characters. She tries, but the enthuasiasm just isn't there.

On the positive side, Henry never misses some tricks, and she knows how horse-loving and horseless children feel about their thwarted desires:

I get sick whenever I look at a person riding a horse and acting so smug and happy at being up there. I just want to crawl under a rock and cry.

Although it's easy to miss Wesley Dennis's illustrations, Bonnie Shields does a wonderful job.

Lady Sue - sorrel mare, possibly Arab/TB cross
Smokestack - Weimaraner dog
Brown Sunshine - mule
Strolling Joe - Tennesee Walking Horse gelding
Royal Gift - Spanish jack sent to George Washington

About the Author
A Wisconsin native most famous for Misty Of Chincoteague, Henry had two Newberry Honor books (Misty and Justin Morgan Had A Horse) and one Newberry Medal book (King Of The Wind). Her collaboration with Wesley Dennis resulted in some of the most beloved children's book of the 20th century.

More books by the Author
Justin Morgan Had A Horse
The Little Fellow
Misty Of Chincoteague
King Of The Wind
Sea Star
Born To Trot
Album Of Horses
Brighty Of The Grand Canyon
Misty, The Wonder Pony
Black Gold
All About Horses
White Stallions Of Lipizza
Mustang, Wild Spirit Of The West
Dear Readers And Riders
San Domingo, The Medicine Hat Stallion
A Pictorial Life Story Of Misty
One Man's Horse
Our First Pony
Misty's Twilight

Columbia, Tennessee Mule Day
Mule Day

About Mule Day
Begun in 1840 as a meeting for mule breeders, this annual event now lasts several days and is a celebration of Appalachian crafts and food as well. In 2010, the event will be held April 8-11. For old photos of past Mule Days (including a 1949 King Mule named Brown's Sunshine), see Tennessee State Library and Archives.

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