Friday, February 26, 2010

The Trouble With Skye (aka A Horse To Love), 2004

The Trouble With Skye (aka A Horse To Love)
Series: Keystone Stables (#1)
Marsha Hubler
2004, Zonderkidz

"God made a horse's mouth very sensitive. It doesn't take much to stop him with that bit in his mouth, so be careful. Did you know it tells us in the Bible that a tiny bit controls a powerful horse like this one? God's Word has wisdom for every facet of life, even how to handle God's creatures."
What is he talking about? Skye asked herself. The Bible? What does that have to do with horses?

13-year-old Skye Nicholson is a jaded foster kid who's been through 13 homes and a long list of tangles with the juvenile court system. Her latest trick, throwing a soda at a classmate and setting fire to her books, has earned her a one-way ticket to the local juvenile lockup, but she's re-routed by Christian foster parents Eileen and Tom Chambers, who also run a special needs camp. Skye is less than impressed with the God talk, but falls head over heels for their Quarter Horse, Champ.

She released her hand from the horn, reaching cautiously toward Champ's neck. Gently, Skye crawled her fingers under his thick, flowing mane and stroked his coat, which was warm from the rays of the sun - as warm as her not-so-nasty heart. She took a deep breath and smiled.

But of course, just learning to love and ride horses - which Skye does with the typical ease of a series heroine - isn't enough. Skye's problems are at school, where she can't resist once again assaulting her unfortunate classmate Hannah, and at the counseling sessions at Maranatha Treatment Center, and at her new foster home. Rules irk her. Hannah irks her. Life irks her. And when things irk Skye, she feels free to flip out and start punching people. She's not a tremendously likeable heroine.

The religious message is consistent and forceful, but well-integrated into the plot. A child could read it simply as a horse story, as the religious tone is not clunky. As an adult, it's hard to avoid seeing the very Christian-of-a-certain-type themes and beliefs in the plot of a black sheep reclaimed, and particularly in the indifference of the main characters to the effects of Skye's actions on others. As long as poor little Skye learned to trust and love, that's the only important thing.

The writing is better than that of most series, though the quality is not consistent. The strong characters and brisk plot make this an appealing series book, which would have benefited from better editing, and tightening up language that is sometimes weak or clumsy.

There isn't much horse in this horse story. Champ is very much background, despite Skye's affection for him and the part he plays in the plot.

The first few books of the series have been reissued with new titles and covers. This installment's new title is A Horse To Love and the cover is of a horse running (see here). An improvement over the sulky teen model on the original cover. According to the author's website, the new editions feature chapters in the back about horses and horse care.

The first quote references James 3:3
Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body

The whole meghilla:

1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. 3 Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. 4 Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. 7 For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: 8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. 11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? 12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. 13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. 14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. 15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. 16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Champ - chestnut Quarter Horse gelding (5yo)
Pepsi - bay Quarter Horse mare
Diamond - grey Thoroughbred

Tippy Canoe - West Highland White Terrier
Tyler Too - West Highland White Terrier

Note: This is a very modern book to have a reference to Tippecanoe and Tyler Too! This old slogan goes back to the 1840 presidential election, and a campaign song celebrating William Henry Harrison and his vice-presidential candidate, John Tyler. The Tippecanoe was a river near the 1811 battle in which Harrison had led the Indiana Territory settlers against a Native American uprising. The settlers won, Tecumseh's forces never recovered, and Harrison used it in his presidential bid 29 years later. He won the election, but 22 days after his inauguration, he came down with a cold. With the limited medicine of the time, the relentless pressures of office and no time to rest, his cold turned into pneumonia. Nine days later, he died, and is still the president with the briefest tenure.

Just had to mention it, as I've seen the Tippy/Tyler duos in older books, ones from the first half of the 20th century, but didn't think I'd see it in a book from 2004.

Other books in series
On The Victory Trail (aka A True Test For Skye)
Southern Belle's Special Gift (aka Trouble Times Two)
Summer Camp Adventure (aka Teamwork At Camp Tioga)
Leading The Way (aka The Winning Summer)
Blue Ribbon Champ
Whispering Hope
The Long Ride Home

Author website

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Peanuts The Pony (1941)

Peanuts The Pony
Arensa Sondergaard and Mary Maud Reed
1941, D.C. Heath & Co.

True, there is no actual review here. But I feel this is a) fitting as the book itself contains no actual words, and b) beside the point, as the illustrations are very lovely.

One of a series for beginner readers called Our Animal Story Books.

S.E. Hinton's first library book!

Other books by Arensa Sondergaard
The Horse With The Flying Mane
My First Geography of the Panama Canal
The Little Fir Tree
Fun For Fidelia
The Snow Man
Fuzzy Tail
A History of the United States for Young People
Biddy And The Ducks
Maybelle The Donkey
A Day With Old Joe
They Went Exploring

Other books illustrated by Doris and Marion Henderson
Penny The Puppy
Little White Rabbit
A Real Kitten
Dick and Dot: A Primer
Singing Hearts
Zeke the Raccoon
Trim The Christmas Tree
Maeterlinck's The Children's Bluebird
My Dog Laddie

Monday, February 22, 2010

Animal Magnetism (2009)

A short review of a memoir by Rita Mae Brown, author of the popular Sister Jane foxhunting mysteries. To explain the last two links, which are left hanging by the review itself, among the topics Brown's wide-ranging book addresses are horse slaughter and the death of the racehorse Ferdinand.

Animal Magnetism
Rita Mae Brown
2009, Ballantine Books

This book is about the many lessons I've learned, the animals who have loved me, endured me, and taught me, and my bottomless love for them in return.

The prolific writer and author of the popular Sneaky Pie cat mysteries and Sister Jane foxhunting mysteries rambles pleasantly in this memoir, always returning to her love of nature, animals and life.

Born in Pennsylvania, Brown was raised in a family that identified intensely as Southern and eccentric.

Mother had a refreshingly low opinion of monogamy. Naturally, one did one's best. If a wild moment came upon you, the best course of action was to be discreet...

A little of that flavor of playful southern charm can go a long way, and Brown doesn't belabor it. She flickers over to her mother's interest in foxes, and her own childhood study of them. While the book ranges over topics as diverse as farming, politics, cats and family history, it keeps returning to horses and foxhunting.

Horses, like women, dazzle. The result: brains fly out the window. Even experienced horsemen can lose their composure. You pay for beauty.

While I long ago reach my lifetime quota of country wisdom and southern oddity, there are just too many good lines in this book to hold her tendency toward both against her. One final crack:

A dog will whine if it's upset or needs something, but no animal whines in the manner of a human. It's deeply boring when a woman does it and beyond the pale when a man does it. Patriarchy brings extra benefits, extra burdens. You want the benefits, accept the burdens.

Author website - Sister Jane books
Author website - excerpt from Animal Magnetism
Oak Ridge Fox Hunt
The Bloodhorse article about Ferdinand's fate
Thoroughbred Retirement Fund

Other books
Brown has written a lot of books, so I'll just list the foxhunting mystery series in which horses, hounds, and everyone else gets a voice.

Full Cry
The Hunt Ball
The Hounds And The Fury
The Tell-Tale Horse
Hounded To Death

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Christmas Pony (2001)

The icicles have finally begun melting and falling off the eaves with great exciting cracks. The birds, which appear to share my dislike of the continuing presence of 16" of snow everywhere, responded with great excitement to my offering of moldy bread this morning. The breakfast crowd included the cursed robins, who have quite obviously quit the whole tiresome migration business and elected to remain here year-round as taunting non-harbingers of spring. All of which is to explain the posting of a review about a holiday-themed book which would on the face of it seem to be a bit late in the day. It has snow on the cover, it's going in.

The Christmas Pony

Sylvia Green, il. Sharon Scotland

2001, Scholastic

"Of course you can't have a pony for Christmas, Laura. We couldn't possibly afford one." Dad looked determined.

Poor old Dad. You know his determination is that of the doomed pony parent. The elderly neighbor who owns Mr. Crumbs is moving to Australia, and her aging palomino pony is scheduled to be retired to a horse rescue far away. But Laura doesn't want to lose her equine pal, and has rallied her brother Ben and her friends Emily and Sanjay to raise money to persuade her parents to adopt the pony instead.

Mr. Crumbs tossed his head, shaking his long mane, and blew gently through his nostrils. Laura couldn't imagine life without him.

The writing is very simple, the plot lacks urgency, but children's fundraising efforts are believable and sensible. The book seems aimed at children who are just past the beginner reader stage.


Mr. Crumbs - 18-year-old palomino pony

Other books

The Best Christmas Ever (cat)

The Best Dog In The World

Christmas Quackers (duck)

The Soft-Hearted Sheepdog

The Lonely Chick

The Christmas Wish (donkey)


Green is English, and the while the book is non-specific about exactly where it's taking place, there is a vague, indescribable Englishness about it. This sort of thing always fascinates me about English-language books, even those which aren't deliberately trying to be generic enough to appeal to a wider audience. It's usually possible to realize from the writing alone that a writer is American or English or Canadian or Australian*. The slang, the choice of character names and, of course, the biases and prejudices we all enjoy. My favorite is the phrase "North America," which is almost always a big red (maple leafed) flag that you're currently enjoying the writing of a Canadian author.

* Yes, I realize I left out the Irish and the Scots, but it's a lot harder, generally, to make that distinction so I've lumped them in with the English.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Horse Diaries: Elska (2009)

The snow has stopped, but I'm still preoccupied with it since a) it's everywhere and b) I keep having to move it. So, a book set in Iceland, about that nation's native breed.

Horse Diaries: Elska

Catherine Hapka, il. Ruth Sanderson

2009, Random House

I was foaled in early summer, in a meadow dotted with flowers. My first memory was the feeling of the warm sun on my back. I did not know it then, but in summer in Iceland, the sun shines for more than twenty hours each day. My dam, Silfra, was on her feet within moments of my birth. She nudged at me with her soft muzzle. The scent of her surounded me and made me feel safe.

In Iceland in the year 1000, a grey foal is born. Her first steps soon move into the unique gait of her kind, the tolt, which she continues as her herd moves through its summer grazing. In the autumn, their human owners appear, and young Elska (whose name appears to translate to 'love') quickly becomes the favorite of the youngest daughter of the clan, Amma. When Elska is around 4, she's trained to be ridden and enjoys a happy season with Amma. But the beautiful and fast young mare attracts the attention of a clan chief, and Amma's father agrees to gift Elska to him as thanks for help in a land dispute. Elska's new owners are kind, but the horse isn't content.

But by the time the long, dim twilight was half over, I was growing restless. I thought of my familiar herd and wanted to be with them. I wanted to see Amma as well. I missed the musical sound of her voice and the way she always found the itchiest spots on my crest and withers.

How horse and girl are reunited makes for a nice, low-key story, and the tone throught is reminiscent of Black Beauty. Appropriately, a quote from the classic starts the book;

Oh! if people knew what a comfort to horses a light hand is...

A higher-quality series book, but not especially memorable. Lovely drawings throughout enhance the sometimes pedestrian writing. The setting makes for an interesting background, and it's very instructive about the breed. I never knew Icelandic Horses came in so many colors, for one thing.


Silfra - mare

Elska - silver dapple/grey filly

Tappi - pinto colt

Perta - mare

Haddingur - stallion

Hamur - roan colt

Leira - cremello filly

Tyrta - palomino filly

Irpa - mare


Other Books in Series

Bell's Star by Alison Hart, il. Ruth Sanderson (Morgan in 1850's Vermont)

Koda by Patricia Hermes, il. Ruth Sanderson (Quarter Horse in 1846 Missouri)

Maestro Petra by Jane Kendall, il. Ruth Sanderson (Lipizzanner in 1938 Austria)

Yet to be published (Oct. 26, 2010)

Golden Sun by Whitney Sanderson, il. Ruth Sanderson (Appaloosa, 1790 Oregon)

Other books by Author

Hapka appears to be a prolific author who's written many beginner reader books, often linked to movies such as National Treasure and The Dark Knight. She's also written some YA chick lit. Other horse-related writing include an I Can Read! series called Pony Scouts, books based on the horsey TV series Wildfire, and a novelization of the film Flicka.

Pony Scouts

Pony Crazy

Really Riding



Track Record

Racing Away

Riding Lessons


Random House Horse Diaries
Horse Diaries - an artist's journey (Ruth Sanderson blog)

Review of Horse Diaries: Elska at Blogcritics Books

Extremely helpful illustration of where Iceland is on the planet at Sunfilm Souvenirs

Random selection of Icelandic Horse souvenirs from Sunfilm

International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations

Iceland's national registry of the Icelandic Horse

United States Icelandic Horse Congress

New horse book releases in 2010

I will just say that after three major snowstorms in four days it is still snowing.

Picture/Easy Reader books

Prolific illustrator Ruth Sanderson has a book coming out in September with well-known fantasy writer Jane Yolen. Random House will publish Hush, Little Horsie, a picture book, on September 28, 2010.

Random House is releasing Mary Pope Osborne's 1991 book, Moonhorse, illustrator S.M. Saelig, as a paperback. April 27, 2010.

Paddywack, a Step Into Reading book by Stephanie Spinner, will be released on April 27, 2010.

Juvenile Fiction

Whirlwind, the sequel to Alison Hart's Shadow Horse is coming out on May 25, 2010 (Random House)

Whispering Hope and Long Ride Home, the latest books in Marsha Hubler's Christian-themed Keystone Stables series, are due out this spring from Zondervan.

Rival Revenge, the latest in the Canterwood Crest series by Jessica Burkhart, came out January 26 from Simon & Schuster/Aladdin MIX. Sequels Home Sweet Drama is due out April 6, City Secrets on July 6, and Elite Ambition on September 14.

Heather Henson uses that most common of themes, a damaged kid and a damaged horse, in Dream Of Night, due out in May from Atheneum.

Diane Lee Wilson, author of Black Storm Comin' and Fire Horse, has a third horse-related book due out in April; Raven Speak in which a Viking chief's daughter flees a usurper intent on killing her beloved horse.

The Breyer Horse Collection series book Favory's Journey: The Story of a Lipizzaner Stallion by Annie Wedekind is due in September from Feiwel & Friends.

Judy Andrekson and David Parkin's Gunner: Hurricane Horse in the True Horse Stories series is due out in September from Tundra Books.

Horse Mad Heights, the latest in the Horse Mad series by Kathy Helidoniotis, is due from Whitecap Books on May 1, 2010.

YA book Mystery At Saddle Creek by Shelley Peterson is due out on March 1, 2010 from Key Porter Books.


Jens Lorenz Franzen's The Rise Of Horses: 55 Million Years Of Evolution is due from Johns Hopkins University Press in February.

Nonfiction - Bio/Memoir

Wild Horse Annie and the Last of the Mustangs: The Life of Velma Johnston, by David Cruise and Alison Griffiths, is due out in April.

Susan Richards, the author of memoirs Chosen By A Horse and Chosen Forever, has a third horsey memoir due out on May 4. Saddled concerns Richards' third horse, the memorable mare Georgia.

And, just for fun - Romance

Tame Horses, Wild Hearts from Alison Paige, wherein a woman running a riding camp falls for her bodyguard. Due from Samhain Publishing on March 2, 2010.

Juvenile Fiction - new in paperback

Chancey Of The Maury River by Gigi Amateau will be released in paperback on March 8, 2010 from Candlewick Press. (Check out the link for the new and quite different paperback cover. The cover above appeals more to me, despite the extreme shortness of the horse's neck.)

Firehorse by Diane Lee Wilson is due in paperback on July 6, 2010 (Simon & Schuster)

The Georges and The Jewels by Jane Smiley is due in paperback on Septembe 14, 2010 (Random House)

Secret Of The Night Ponies by Joan Hiatt Harlow is due in paperback on September 14, 2010 (Simon & Schuster)

Everything else - new in paperback

Jim Squires's racing critique Headless Horsemen: A Tale Of Chemical Colts, Subprime Sales Agents and the Last Kentucky Derby on Steroids comes to paperback on April 27, 2010 from Holt.

Eclipse: The story of the rogue, the madam and the horse that changed racing by Nicholas Clee is due out in paperback on February 5 from Bantam Press.



Mystery At Saddle Creek

Tame Horses, Wild Hearts

Chancey Of The Maury River (pb)


Wild Horse Annie And The Last Of The Mustangs
Canterwood Crest - Home Sweet Drama
Raven Speak

Moonhorse (pb)

Headless Horsemen


Whispering Hope

The Long Ride Home Horse

Mad Heights

Dream Of Night




Canterwood Crest - City Secrets Firehorse (pb)


Favory's Journey

Gunner: Hurricane Horse

Canterwood Crest - Elite Ambition

The Georges And The Jewels (pb)
Secret of the Night Ponies (pb)

Hush, Little Horsie

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Show Ring Rogue (1963)

Show Ring Rogue
Patsey Gray, il. Sam Savitt
1963, Coward-McCann

Sheila's grown up middle-class amid the beauty of Hawaii, and her first touch of tragedy was a case of polio that's left her with a brace on one leg. The one exercise her doctor prescribes is the one she flatly refuses to consider; horseback riding is just too public and the reminders of how good she used to be just too painful. Fed up with her tantrums, her family ships her off to an old friend who trains show horses in California with orders to ride and get better. Furious and upset, Sheila's set to resist this until she meets the Rogue, a buckskin gelding whose horrific career as a picador's horse - working in the bullfighting world - has made him phobic about entering the show ring. With the helpless obsession of the horsey, Sheila falls hard for the Rogue. But can she convince the adults that the spooky, fearful horse can be safe for a rider with a handicap?

A beautiful look at a girl falling utterly in love with a horse, beyond reason and with no regard for the sense of it. The plot works nicely, the language is just right, and there's plenty of genuine horse feeling:

With a swinging walk he headed homeward through the woods, his back warm to sit on, shoulder muscles rippling, his mane swaying gently. Sheila couldn't resist reaching for it. As she had thought, it was silky, and his foretop that blew aside looked silky too. They were kind of dear and youngish on such a masculine creature. How a good grooming would improve him, she reflected. A brush, currycomb and rub rag, a bath and shampoo, greased hoofs, would make him truly gorgeous. Boldy she leaned sideways to catch glimpses of his black socks, then of his black mask. From up here she discovered another marking too, a slim black stripe from withers to tail. What amazing looks he had, added to personality! The longer Sheila rode him, the more elated she grew.

My only quibble with Gray is the lack of evocative description of landscapes. She does a much better job of interiors, but though most of her books are set in California, her few words on the world surround our heroines are not compelling. Interesting group of topics not often seen in horse fiction - trail riding classes, the mention of picadors, and a disabled heroine. Temporarily disabled, but still.

Rogue - buckskin gelding, black dorsal stripe; used in trail class
Ink Spot - black equitation horse
Dapple - grey

About the Author

According to the dust jacket of The Flag Is Up, Gray lived on a 30-acre ranch outside San Francisco, and raised Appaloosas and Quarter Horses. She was married with 4 children, and began writing while recovering from a riding accident.

Other books
Jumping Jack
Double Standards
Heads Up!
Galloping Gold
Horse In Her Heart
Doggone Roan
Loco The Bronc
4-H Horse
Diving Horse

The Flag Is Up

The Mysterious Buckskin (as Virginia Clark)

Barefoot A Thousand Miles (dog)

Star series
The Horse Trap
The Mysterious Buckskin
Star Bright
Star Lost

About the illustrator


Sam Savitt

Savitt wrote and illustrated dozens of books, and his portraits of horses and dogs are well-known. He lived on a farm in North Salem, New York, was married and had two children. He spent several years as the official artist for the U.S. Equestrian team. Several of his drawings are held at the National Sporting Library.


Sam Savitt website

New York Times obituary

Horse - Sam Savitt

National Sporting Library

Fiction written by Savitt

The Dingle Ridge Fox And Other Stories

Wild Horse Running

Midnight, Champion Bucking Horse

Step-A-Bit, The Story Of A Foal

A Horse To Remember

Vicki And The Black Horse

Vicki And The Brown Mare

Nonfiction written by Savitt

Draw Horses With Sam Savitt

The Art Of Painting Horses

Great Horses Of The U.S. Equestrian Team (with Bill Steinkraus)

One Horse One Hundred Miles One Day (about the Tevis Cup)
Rodeo Cowboys, Bulls And Broncos
Sam Savitt's True Horse Stories

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Pony (2003)

In a nod to last month's Caldecott awards to the artists of the best American picture book of 2009, a look at a picture book from Susan Jeffers, 1974 Caldecott Honor winner for Three Jovial Huntsmen.*

My Pony

Susan Jeffers, author and illustrator

2003, Hyperion Books for Children

I want a pony. I want a pony more than anything else in the world.

A little girl wants a pony; her parents tell her they can't get her one, and she dreams every night of a dapple gray mare who comes and takes her for magical rides.

A very simple picture book showing the power of the horseless child's passionate desire, constant fantasy and total belief. Gorgeous.

About the author


Author's Website

Other books (author/illustrator)

All The Pretty Horses

My Chincoteague Pony

Other books (illustrator)

Black Beauty - Sharon Lerner adaptation


The McDuff series

Lassie Come Home - with Rosemary Wells


Disney-Hyperion Books

Through The Magic Door website - section about Jeffers

Link - audio

Teachers for a New Era - UConn: Interview with Susan Jeffers

* Jeffers' Caldecott-winning book was based on an old children's rhyme and not, as I first thought, on an even older song which was the source of another book titled Three Jovial Huntsmen. This second, older book was illustrated by Randolph Caldecott, the 19th century English illustrator of children's books who the American awards are named after. The huntsmen in Caldecott's version are foxhunters; the ones in Jeffers' are portly guys on foot.