Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Christmas Pony (1967)

The Christmas Pony
Helen McCully & Dorothy Crayder, il. Robert J. Lee
1967, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.

On that day, late in the afternoon, quite a few people saw the McCully's man Laurent walking a beautiful big black pony to Cody's stable.

In Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1912, Dr. McCully's wife decides that her three children should have a pony for Christmas. But how to keep a surprise in a small town where everything must be shipped in from the mainland or England?

The McCullys were very good at living as if they were rich.

A line which should tell you nearly everything you need to know about the McCullys. It's the same old mid-century story - a big rambling old house at the unfashionable end of town (which is never the criminal end of town, though), 'only' a few servants, a charming garden, rebellious children with upright hearts, and local roots that extend back a good many years. They would be tiresome except for the humor:
The McCullys and the cats coexisted with the understanding that people were people and cats were cats and it was neither possible nor desirable for it to be otherwise. This understanding made for mutual enjoyment. And the McCullys, keeping to their side of the bargain, never gave the cats names - except for the Angora, who had been named Dora. No one knew how this came about, and everyone was slightly uneasy at this breach of etiquette.

Not truly a horse book, as the majority of the action does not directly involve a horse or pony. But a book about every horsey child's dream - getting a pony under the tree - must be included.

There are several beautiful paintings by Robert J. Lee.

Other books
McCully was a food writer, whose other books were all culinary:
The American Heritage Cookbook (with Eleanor Moderer)
Nobody Ever Tells You These Things About Food And Drink
Things You've Always Wanted To Know About Food and Drink
The Other Half of The Egg
Waste Not Want Not
Cooking With Helen McCully Beside You

Dorothy Crayder apparently wrote other children's books, but nothing seems horsey
The Riddles Of Mermaid House
She And The Dubious Three
She, The Adventuress
The Joker And The Swan

Other seasonal horse books
A Horse For Christmas Morning by Gordon Grand (foxhunting)
The Christmas Horse by Glenn Balch
The Christmas Pony by Sylvia Green
Issie And The Christmas Pony by Stacy Gregg
The Christmas Pony by Wendy Douthwaite (series)
A Horse For Christmas by Joanna Campbell (series)
Starlight Christmas by Bonnie Bryant (series)

Stubby Pringle's Christmas by Jack Schaefer
(a novella really, and about a cowboy, but wonderful Lorence Bjorklund illustrations)

A Miserable, Merry Christmas by Lincoln Steffens (from his autobiography)
(a short story which appears in many anthologies)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Horse To Remember

A Horse To Remember
Genevieve Torrey Eames, il. Paul Brown
1947, Julian Messner, Inc.

The little horse stopped a short distance from the boy and stood like a statue, head outstretched, ears forward, nostrils sniffing to make sure this was a friend. The sun turned his coat to gold, except for the narrow white strip down his face and the two white socks on his hind legs. His mane and tail were silvery white and his eyes were dark and full, set far apart.

Jarvis Dane is the only one in his family who doesn't love to ride. He envies his twin sisters, Mary and Martha, for their confident ease on horseback, but he really prefers to walk. This summer, though, his lack of interest has a price; his father, forseeing a bad hay crop, is planning to sell off some horses, including Jarvis's pet, the scruffy accidental colt named Joker. The ragged colt has grown up, largely overlooked, during the winter, and is now a beautifully formed 3-year-old with a flashy palomino coat. He still has the sense of humor that inspired his name.

"Funny about that colt. He's got his own ideas. He's smart - smart as they come - but he doesn't seem to take his work serious."

Jarvis plots to keep his horse, discovers a mystery in the woods involving a chicken thief, and fights with a snooty newcomer who disdains loyal collie Jack as not looking much like the champion show dogs his father raises. Most importantly, Jarvis learns to love riding.

Now they were climbing the hill at a walk, but Jarvis was too dizzy with happiness to know where they were. He was in a magic world of his own; a world he had just discovered, where he and his horse were like one creature - a creature with strength and speed he had never known, and all his to guide and control. He felt at that moment that there was nothing he couldn't do, no place he couldn't go. It was a world only riders could know. He felt, too, as if he could look right into Joker's mind and never before had he loved the colt so much.

Unusually realistic and strong portrayal of a kid - and a boy! - learning to want to ride, and then learning to ride. Where many horse books would have had the newly formed team of boy and young horse continue merrily on their way, Eames has her hero go through actual riding lessons on an older, quiet horse, and be unable to ride the young, green horse again until after those lessons. Granted, the lessons only last 3 weeks, but it's still kinda cool. And the lesson scene is very well done.

"No, no," Chet called out as Jarvis passed him, posting rhythmically in time to Gray Eagle's long, low trot. "Don't tuck you chin in like that. Look up - forward, between your horse's ears. That's better. And be careful about your feet, don't let them swing back and forth." Jarvis tried to keep his mind on his chin and his feet at the same time. It was like that old stunt of rubbing your stomach and patting your back. He had never thought there was so much to remember - head, shoulders, elbows, heels. The twins always looked just right on their horses and they never seemed to think about it. He was hot and sticky; his knees were tired too, but he wouldn't think of stopping until Chet said the lesson was over.

A very well-written book with sharply defined characters in the children, even between the twin girls who are very similar, and a nice growth in perspective by the hero. Strong horse scenes, and neatly wrapped plot threads. Unusually, a foal whose dicey birth fuels a major plot point disappears from the book quickly.

Jarvis has a collie, Jack, whose attitude toward his boy is summed up rather elegantly.

Old Jack, the collie, met the girls at the door. He greeted them with a wag of his tail as he passed them, but it was Jarvis he was looking for. He thrust his long, smooth muzzle into the boy's hand and walked beside him toward the house.

and later

The dog thumped his tail on the ground and gazed up at his master. It had not been a perfect day for him, shut in the house all afternoon, but the ending suited him all right. He loved picnic suppers on the lawn, with handouts from all the family; even Aunt Sue had passed him a bit of cold chicken when nobody was looking.

Joker - palomino 3-year-old
Lady-be-good - black blind broodmare
Annabel - retired polo pony
Gee-Whiz - retired polo pony
Pepsi - Shetland pony
Popsi - Shetland pony
Gay Lady - chestnut mare
Gray Eagle -
Sun Flash - Thoroughbred gelding
Ginger - 22-year-old horse
Dan - farm horse
Dolly - farm horse
Brownie - broodmare

Jack - 10-year-old rough collie

Other Books by Author
The Good Luck Colt
The Flying Roundup
Pat Rides The Trail

Books authored by Paul Brown (1893-1958)
Pony Farm
Pony School
Piper's Pony
Sparkie And Puff Ball
Daffy Taffy
Crazy Quilt, Circus Pony

Books illustrated by Paul Brown
Too many to list; he illustrated Eames's The Good Luck Colt

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snowy Day

In honor of the vast amounts of white stuff now covering my neck of the woods, some images of horse books in the snow. It's not a common theme, actually; summer (or California) is the standard backdrop.

Winter Pony by Jean Slaughter Doty (Nothing like starting with the obvious.)

Horses Across The Ages, Jeanne Mellin author and illustrator

Happily After All by Laura C. Stevenson

Panky In The Saddle by Nancy Saxon

The Ponies Of Mykillengi by Lonzo Anderson

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Kingdom In A Horse

A Kingdom In A Horse

Maia Wojciechowska.

Harper & Row, 1965

The mare's hips were outlined, the bones pressing against the dirty coat. He liked the wide white mark running from her eyes and narrowing slightly at the nostrils. And more than that, he liked the way the mare looked at him, with the soft brown eye and the very light blue one. It seemed to mock him, that look.

12-year-old David Lee is bitterly disappointed that his father Earl, a famous rodeo clown, has abruptly quit the circuit and moved them to Vermont to settle down. Apart from the horror of attending school regularly (where the gaps in his education quickly translate into constant failure and frustration), he feels betrayed that his father has broken a long-standing promise that he could join him in the arena as his partner. Sulking and withdrawn, he refuses to play along when his dad tries to buy him a horse for his 13th birthday. Even though he falls in love with the dirty chestnut mare at the auction, he turns away and continues to punish his dad by faking disinterest. Even though it half kills him.

He leaned for the reins; then barely touching them he neck-reined to the right, and the mare turned as sharply as he knew she would and sprung immediately into a canter. Although there were people in the passageway between the stalls, the horse ran as if she were in an open field, smoothly and fearlessly.

The mare is bought instead by 70-something Sarah Tierney. At loose ends after the death of her husband, she suddenly recalls a childhood dream of owning a horse. At the auction, she asks the help of a tall horseman sitting nearby, who happens to be Earl Lee, and the three are drawn together by chance and the influence of the mare soon to be christened Gypsy. And, surprisingly, even more people reveal hidden, horsey sides to themselves as news gets around of Sarah's purchase.

The writing switches back and forth from David's POV to Sarah's, and while hers is more interesting and believable, both are strong, individual voices.

The fear had not left her, but she knew this was the time to try her horse out, with Lee around. She loosened the reins a little, and the second she did, Gypsy took off at a fast canter. Sarah was petrified by the speed and her distance from the ground, and she held on to the horn with one hand. Off they went, faster now, at a gallop, down the dirt road.

The end notes say that the mare is based on a horse owned by Wojciechowska, and while I find some of the events daunting - galloping on your first ride ever? - they are likely based on reality.

A well-written book which concentrates on the human drama and quality, but is very much about the horse.


Gypsy - chestnut mare with one blue eye, maybe QH/TB

About the author


Born in Poland, Wojciechowska came to the U.S. sometime during the 1940s, having left Poland at the outbreak of World War II, and then France when that country fell to the Nazis. She attended a variety of schools during this time, and developed a dislike for the educational system. She attended Immaculate Heart College in California, and worked on several publications including a labor newspaper, Newsweek, and in PR. Over the years she lived in Santa Fe, Mahwah and Laguna Beach. She died in Long Branch, NJ of a stroke. She published 3 books for adults under her married name, and 17 for children and teens under her maiden name. Many of her later books had a clear social message, not unusual for the era (1960-1980) she was writing in. She won the Newberry Medal in 1956 for Shadow Of A Bull. The mare Gypsy was based on a horse she and her daughter Oriana owned.


University of Mississippi de Grummond Collection 1 and 2

New York Times obituary

Other Books


Market Day For `Ti Andre (1952) under name Maia Rodman

Shadow Of A Bull

A Single Light (1968)

2und Out (aka Tuned Out)

The Hollywood Kid (1966)

Don't Play Dead Before You Have To

Hey, What's Wrong With This One?

The Rotten Years


Winter Tales From Polan (stories)

Odyssey Of Courage: The Story Of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (bio)

Till The Break Of Day (autobiography)

The People In His Life (adult novel)

How God Got Christians Into Trouble

She also began writing a series called "Dreams Of..." and cowrote The Bridge To The Other Side with Monika Kotowska.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Horse For X.Y.Z.

A Horse For X.Y.Z.
Louise Moeri; Gail Owens, illustrator
1977, E.P. Dutton

After a week at camp, Solveig Nilsson is standing obediently if sullenly in line awaiting the bus to take her back to her boarding school when she impulsively decides to throw caution to the wind and break a few rules. Solveig's been yearning to ride the chestnut Quarter Horse Snake Dancer all week, but he's only been trusted to a few older campers. Her plan now is to slide off the bus, hide until it leaves, then take a quick ride before the bus driver realizes she's missing and returns for her. A few minor flaws in her plan - there's a reason Snake Dancer was ridden only by the more advanced riders, an emergency on her bus causes so much confusion that Solveig isn't missed, and men with guns turn up at the isolated camp to reclaim their stolen property - Snake Dancer.

Solveig isn't tremendously likeable, the horse is essentially a minor figure in what is really an adventure story, and the writing falls just on the wrong side of the line separating the distinct if sometimes irksome 1970's style of prosaic realism from the timeless flaw of pedestrian dullness. On the plus side, Solveig is very believable, the horse does show some personality and isn't just a plot mechanism, and the adventure is very thrilling for a child reader, particularly the terrifying ride at the beginning. And her struggles, both physically with Snake Dancer and mentally with her own fear, are compelling.

Snake Dancer - chestnut Quarter Horse

Paperback edition - Scholastic, 1980

This book seems to have had a number of covers. Apart from the above hardcover and the Scholastic paperback, I've seen at least two others online. The most attractive can be seen here, at Jane Badger Books.

Other books by Author
The Devil In Ol' Rosie (another horse story)
Star Mother's Youngest Child
First The Egg
Journey To The Treasure
The Girl Who Lived On The Ferris Wheel
Save Queen Of Sheba
The Forty-Third War
The Unicorn And The Plow
How The Rabbit Stole The Moon

About the Illustrator
Gail Owens was born in 1939, and has illustrated far too many books to be mentioned here. Another that feature horses is Stall Buddies by Penny Pollock.

du Grummond collection

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Random book news

The first book Sam Savitt illustrated, Gordon Wright's 1966 Learning To Ride, Hunt and Show, has been reissued by Skyhorse Publishing. I once came across an utterly filthy copy of this book in a public library - by filthy, I mean the lovely cover had layers of grime as thick as the layers
of paint on a Monet. When even librarians seem indifferent to basic care of books, reissues are a boon.

Simon & Schuster is publishing a biography of Wild Horse Annie, the protagonist of Marguerite Henry's Mustang, Wild Spirit Of The West, in March. David Cruise and Alison Griffiths' Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston will be published on March 16, 2010. With the eternal debate over the management of the wild equines currently erupting yet again with a proposed plan to relocate as many as 25,000 horses to the Midwest, this should be an interesting release.

Susan Richards, author of Chosen By A Horse, has written another memoir involving her horses, Saddled: How a Spirited Horse Reined Me In and Set Me Free. This time, Richards focuses on her Morgan mare, Georgia. It will be available on May 5, 2010, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

International Society for the Protection of Horses and Burros
TIME Magazine article on Wild Horse Annie
U.S. Department of the Interior - Bureau of Land Management - Horses and Burros
Find A Grave - Velma Johnston
AP story - US Plan For Wild Horse Round-up Faces Opposition (12/08/2009)