Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mystery of The Dancing Skeleton (1962)

This is not a pony book or a horse book, but a children's mystery with a horsey element in that the child sleuths ride ponies to investigate the curious doings in their mountainside home town. Sorry about the image of the cover - in my defense, it was an early attempt to photograph a book (which is surprisingly difficult considering they just sit there) and the copy I was using was not in great shape.

Mystery of The Dancing Skeleton
Christine Noble Govan and Emmy West, il. Joseph Papin
1962, Sterling Publishing

Several years ago when the older children in the families had begun to want bicycles, Dr. Randall, Jimmy's father, and one of his close friends, Mr. Cordell, had agreed that ponies were not only more fun but safer.

Where were these men when I was a child? At any rate, this is the fairly thin link between this conventional mystery story and horse stories. A group of friends on Lookout Mountain agree to help run the pony ride concession at the town's annual Halloween fair. Something seems shifty about one of the men who is in charge of the ponies, and before you can say "Lookout club" there's a mystery afoot.

The fair has two purposes - to raise money for the local schools and to keep the kids out of trouble on Halloween. How very dull. The town's never very clearly drawn - it's obviously up a mountain and a fairly rough sort of place, but then the kid's parents are almost all well-off. There's a big livestock auction/yard right near the business district, which implies the town is tiny. And there is the fat, excitable, lazy and derided fat kid.

The writing is pedestrian and the mystery isn't very involving. Characters are vague, as is the sense of place, despite the unique location. The illustrations are probably the most interesting part of the book, dark, vivid and far too complex to fit this story.

Horses and other animals
Silky - pony
Horatious - old horse
Snowflake's King - white pony
Windsong - black pony
Trouble - Irish Setter
Bunny - Beagle

About the authors
Christine Noble Govan (1898-1985) and Emmy West were a mother-daughter writing team. Govan's husband and children were all writers; daughter Mary Govan Steele wrote under the name Wilson Gage, and her book Journey Outside was a Newberry Honor Book. Govan also wrote mysteries as Mary Allerton and J. N. Darby.

About the illustrator
Joseph Papin also illustrated Dorothy Potter Benedict's Bandoleer and Fabulous.

Other books in the Lookout Club series
Mystery At Shingle Rock
Mystery At The Mountain Face
Mystery At The Shuttered Hotel
Mystery At Moccasin Bend
Mystery At The Indian Hide-Out
Mystery At The Deserted Mill
Mystery Of The Vanishing Stamp
Mystery At The Haunted House
Mystery At Plum Nelly
Mystery At Rock City
Mystery At The Snowed-In Cabin

Other books for teens and children
Those Plummer Children
Five At Ashefield
Judy And Chris
Narcissus An' de Chillun
String And The No-Tail Cat
Sweet 'Possum Valley
Mr. Hermit Miser And The Neighborly Pumpkin
The Pink Maple House
The Surprising Summer
The Super-Duper Car
Tilly's Strange Secret
Rachel Jackson, Tennessee Girl
Willow Landing
The Delectable Mountain
Number 5 Hackberry Street
The Curious Clubhouse
Return To Hackberry Street
Phinney's Fine Summer
Mr. Alexander And The Witch
The Trash Pile Treasure
Danger Downriver

Short Stories
"Miss Winters And The Wind" in anthologies Stories Not For The Nervous and Timeless Stories For Today And Tomorrow.

de Grummond Collection on Govan and West
University of Tennessee - regional author info

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Awkward Art

I'm working on new reviews of a short story collection and a book, but it's going slow for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the weeklong heat wave we've had here. So in the meantime, a quick post on unattractive artwork.

I tend to focus on the good, when it comes to illustrations in books. The dreamy, the vivid, the beautiful, all catch the eye. The covers here aren't all awful, but they're all a little disappointing. Flicka, above, looks like a skyscraper with ears.

Something about this horse's head has just never sat right with me. He looks demonic, like a horse surging out of the sea to eat you.

Not awful, but lacking in any sort of realism or emotion. And orange.

There's just something off-putting about people lying on the ground with a horse running around in the background. It just seems more like a fall than a casual pose.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fifty Acres And A Poodle (2000)

I did warn you I liked farm stories. Despite the wet-blanket-in-a-greenhouse effect of 90% humidity, I always go out to the local 4H fair each July. I spotted a girl walking a sheep around on a leash and gnashed my teeth in pure jealousy. I soothe my frustrated inner farmer by touring the animal tents. Below, a particularly cute Holstein calf from last year's fair.

Fifty Acres And A Poodle is not exactly a horse story, but it's somewhat related. And, frankly, few horse stories have a sense of humor (well, you try cracking a joke while rescuing your beloved palomino stallion, Texas Sunset, from a kill buyer so he can race in the Kentucky Derby to win back the family ranch and show that mean old Jessica/Brittany/Alexandra you are TOO the best young rider in the Pony Club) so anything comic is a welcome change.

Fifty Acres And A Poodle: A Story Of Love, Livestock And Finding Myself On A Farm
Jeanne Marie Laskas
2000, Bantam

At 37, Laskas was a happy, self-sufficient writer living contentedly in an arty neighborhood of Pittsburgh with her aging cat. But to her considerable embarassment, she had a dream of farms which was largely rooted in a sitcom. Green Acres was the place for her. Even though:

I was a person who liked to go to the mall. I was a person who had no conflict about liking to go to the mall.

And then she realized that her old friend Alex is really something more like her really great potential love of her life Alex. And that the city, the wonderful urban surroundings she's thrived on for years, is beginning to wear on her.

Lately, in this city I love, this neighborhood I love, all I seem to notice are the intrusions. Hot air. Reeking garbage. Lunatic neighbors. Bus fumes. I am inventing filters. Stinky-garbage filters. Lunatic-neighbor filters. Noxious-bus-fume filters. Sometimes I imagine plugging a big air conditioner into the front of my head so I can block the rest of the world right the hell out.
That's not right.

And after much back-and-forthing, they buy it. A forty-acre farm forty miles from Pittsburgh with an 1887 bank barn and a pond and a house sporting a huge modern studio from a former owner off one end. And move in just in time for hunting season, complete with endless explosions from the woods nearby. And within days, her previously dubious boyfriend, urban guy and psychiatrist Alex, is hobnobbing with hunters -

When Lucy comes back with the fries, Alex stands and says goodbye to his new friend. "And hey," he says earnestly, "congratulations on your... dead deer."

- and she's appalled herself by reverting to girlishness.

I stand here thinking I should speak my mind. Because there is no way. There is no way I'm going to allow hunting anywhere near me. And I am a woman of the 1990s, active and independent-minded, fully in charge of my life. It is so important to me that I stand behind my beliefs and be heard, be known. This is a golden opportunity for me to spread my magnificent wings and soar.
I say: "I'll have to ask my husband..." It comes out like a series of chirps, dying bird chirps.

I won't spoil the rest by writing more. This memoir is funny, flippant and hugely entertaining. The only drawback is that it sometimes goes too deeply flippant, never quite managing to drop the pretense of wry cynicism at serious moments.

Laskas has written two follow-up memoirs, The Exact Same Moon and Growing Girls. As you might suspect from the title, the latter focuses on parenting and her daughters. As you might suspect of a memoir dealing with raising female children on a farm, there are even more horsey passages.

Author's website

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tamarlane, Strange Son Of Desert Storm (1959)

Only 1 entry so far to win Wild Horse Annie And The Last Of The Mustangs! The deadline to enter is July 4, 2010. To enter, just leave a comment on any post from June 2nd's to July 4th's.

And a quick reference on mustangs in general - the BLM, the U.S. agency that oversees the mustangs, offers online adoptions. For anyone who fantasizes about what you'd buy if you had the money, time, or remotely the skills to buy a wild horse, it's kinda addictive.

And a review which has little to do with mustangs except that the main characters are from the West, and their racehorses were originally wild. I'm not sure how that worked out with the Jockey Club when they went to the track, but who would dream of asking difficult questions of a horse book?

Tamarlane, Strange Son Of Desert Storm

Logan Forster, il. Gerald McCann

1959, Dodd, Mead & Company

...the gate crashed open and a black and a gray body half reared in the openings, hung suspended for a fleeting instant, then flashed into the sunlight.

This third in a four-book series opens with Ponce Stuart's two champion racehorses, the black mare Desert Storm and the grey colt Victorio, in a match race at Belmont Park. The mare, four months pregnant, brilliantly beats the grey but breaks down in the stretch. Her people - owner/jockey Ponce, trainer Gabriel Dreen and Ponce's family Delgadito and Joto (aka The Old Apache) - rally around, knowing that the mare has already survived a broken legs years earlier, and rig up a sling to keep her on her feet until the bone can heal.

To interject - the mare being raced while pregnant seems bizarre, the breakdown scene is heartbreaking, and the scenario that she is saved from death by a sling and cast seems dubious. Onward.

Shaken by the mare's tragedy and his own hard fall, Ponce decides to give up the track and racing. His plans are quickly derailed by an ailing racehorse breeder who presses him to buy the cream of his final crop of young racers. Ponce, pressured by his sharp-eyed kinsmen Joto to not run away, agrees, and regains his strength and courage as he campaigns the new horses, particularly the brilliant gray filly Sage Queen. But even as Ponce forms a new partnership with the Queen, something ominous seems to hang around his new Sunset Stables. When Desert Storm foals, Ponce is devastated. The foal, the colt on which he's hung all his dreams, has a clubfoot.

Three of the legs were perfectly formed, long and straight, with the big knees and ankles of all foals. The fourth, the right foreleg, was the same except for one thing. From ankle to hoof it was a solid, shapeless, queerly twisted lump.

After the first shock, Ponce settles into an angry drive to succeed with Sage Queen, avoiding his beloved Desert Storm and her failure of a foal. His rage pushes him to ride recklessly, heedlessly, with predictable results. When he finally reconciles himself to the deformed foal, he discovers an unusually mellow personality - and an uncanny ability to run sound despite his handicap. It begins to look as if Ponce's bold prediction, before the foal's birth, that this colt would run in the Kentucky Derby, might come true after all.

Despite the attractive illustrations and pleasingly over-the-top plots, Forster's books are plodding. The writing style is overripe, with a few too many trips to the Apache heritage well, and neither human nor equine characters seem particularly real. With one exception - Tamarlane's lazy, oddball personality does stand out in comparison to his more standard-issue parents, the brave mare and the wild stallion.

Logan Forster

I could find out little for certain about the author. There are hints that he was born in Salem, Oregon and he apparently lived in Colorado as an adult. According to the author notes in Mountain Stallion he served 6 years in the Navy, worked a variety of jobs, and attended the University of Colorado. According to a postscript by the author, the real clubfoot racehorse Assault was the inspiration for Tamarlane's story, but his own grey Arabian stallion Mighwar was the basis for his personality.

When it comes to stubbornness, feigned idiocy, laziness and complete lovableness, Mighwar has no equal on this earth.

Also, Forster mentions in the author's note in Tamarlane that he based the mare Desert Storm on the racehorse Busher, a filly whose career was cut short by injury and who became a famous broodmare.


Ponce series

Desert Storm (1955)

Mountain Stallion (1958)

Tamarlane, Strange Son Of Desert Storm (1959)

Revenge (1960)

Stand-alone horse book

Run Fast! Run Far! (1962)


Proud Land (1954) - appears to be about an Apache chief

Anger In The Wind (1974) - appears to be a romantic saga about the early West

Odds and Ends

The full text of Mountain Stallion is available at Internet Archives

The pedigree of Mighwar, the model for Tamarlane


Gerald McCann


He also did editions of the comic series Classics Illustrated

Other books illustrated by Gerald McCann

Revenge by Logan Forster

Brumby, The Wild White Stallion by Mary Elwyn Patchett

Tam The Untamed by Mary Elwyn Patchett

Rosina Copper, Mystery Mare by Kitty Barne

Classics Illustrated

The Conspiracy Of Pontiac by Francis Parkman

Typee by Herman Melville

The Lion Of The North by G.A. Hentry

The Pilot

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

The Conspiractor by Alexandre Dumas, pere

The Food Of The Gods by H.G. Wells

Tom Brown's School Days

Puddn'head Wilson by Mark Twain


Gerald McCann at AskArt

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Win a book!

Submit a comment and be entered to win my review copy of Wild Horse Annie And The Last Of The Mustangs! The winner will be determined by random picking out of a hat. Please feel free to include suggestions for books to review, too.

And because I hate to do a post without an image and because of a recent series of Black Beauty-themed posts on the Books, Mud And Compost blog, I'm including an image of one of my favorite horsey possessions from childhood, a little 45 of the Anna Sewell story.

And for anyone who follows hunter/jumper shows, of course, Devon was/is this week. Equestrian Life provides a free live broadcast. Peter Leone and Select won the very big class, the $100,000 Grand Prix of Devon, on Thursday night. The final big class on Saturday night will be the $50,000 Idle Dice Open Jumper Stake. Below, a photo of Idle Dice and Rodney Jenkins, from the book Show Jumping by Pamela Macgregor-Morris.

Peter Pan Music
Wikipedia on Peter Pan
Better image of above cover
Philadelphia Inquirer - Leone And Select Take Grand Prix
The Showjumping Hall of Face - Idle Dice
The Showjumping Hall of Face - Rodney Jenkins

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