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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1 comment:

Carson Lee said...

What an interesting theme for a blog! Beautifully done. I found you because was looking for books by Christine Noble Govan and Emmy West -- where the Lookouts solved mysteries.
Since horse stories are your focus, I want to say -- there's a story I remember, but can't remember title or author, though I loved the book. They rode horses, barrel-racing, etc. -- and the three main characters were Blythe, Vicki, and a boy named Rory. Got anything on that...?