Sunday, December 26, 2010

Runaway Pony, Runaway Dog (1963)

Tough Enough whined. The little dog was worried. He cocked his large ears forward; his eyes were restless, alert. He knew something was wrong with Sassy, his pony friend. The pony was limping toward a tempting clump of grass. Tough Enough was trotting along beside him. When the pony put his nose down to the grass, the dog whimpered softly and touched Sassy's nose with his.

A little dog and a chestnut Banker pony are best friends living in the Great Smoky Mountains on the Tuttle farm, adored by young owner Beanie Tuttle. But Sassy has a hurt leg, and when the two are sent off for a stay at the local vet hospital they don't understand why they've been exiled. Sassy manages to jump out of his field, and the two run away to search for their home.

Every now and then, Sassy would spread his nostrils and toss his head. Tough Enough's tail was up and waving. They were going home. They were sure of that.

They're caught by a mildly villainous character named Will Bumgarner, whose soft spot for animals has led him to maintain a roadside zoo. A generally kind man who helps Sassy's leg heal, he also maintains a collection of depressed wild animals in stout cages. Reluctant to part with his new pets, Will makes them a highlight of his zoo by dressing pony and dog in costumes for the customers, and resorts to defensively telling his wife it'd be a cruelty to send the nice little animals back to some hillbilly farm to work their lives out.

When they finally do escape, they revel in being free -

Both were finding happiness in roaming through sun-warmed, sweet-scented brush, in drinking from cold, rushing brooks, in hearing the steady whisper of water over rocks, in splashing and swimming in clear pools.

- unaware that their grieving owners are one step behind and heartbroken to discover they've just missed their pets. More adventures and dangers come between the animals and their family, but could there be a doubt that there's a homecoming?

I remember being somewhat leery of this book as a child. Beautiful illustrations, but the book's target audience is fairly young for the level of scariness. The length, very simple language and brief sentences indicates it's intended for intermediate independent readers but there are several disturbing scenes where the animals imprisoned or attacked, and they're starved nearly to death by the end of the book. There's also a fair amount of preachiness, from the idealistically poor-but-honest Tuttles to the anti-zoo emphasis and the general depiction of tourists as ignorant, backward and violent.

On the positive side are the lushly beautiful illustrations (though I still think Ruth's black and white drawings are even more beautiful, see the links below to the Hounds In Print blog about Scuffles for a lovely set of dog pictures.) Also, the writing is strong within the limitations imposed by the age of the audience, and major characters tend to be given more depth than is usual in a book for young children.

This is the final book in a 7-book series about the Tatum family and their many pets. The detailed pastel pencil illustrations were the faithful result of years hiking in the area for the Carrolls, who were originally from New York but who moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 1950 and used their talents to counter stereotypes of Appalachia natives as ignorant, backward, and violent.

The Great Smoky Mountains cover parts of Tennessee and North Carolina, and contain both the Southern Appalachian mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Idle googling and polio

The book is dedicated "For the Children in the Asheville Orthopedic Hospital." I googled it mainly to be thorough, as it appeared to be a worthy but not particularly exciting interest of the authors. But it is, actually, a bit interesting. The hospital was originally for children with developmental disabilities, but changed with the polio outbreak into a regional center for treating polio patients, mostly children. I watched a documentary on polio a few months ago, and it was fascinating. They made the point that the fear of polio was somewhat irrational, considering the relatively low number of patients and the relatively low rate of patients who died or were crippled by the disease, and that the crusade against it was something of a political scheme. And yet it remains a major sense of triumph in the collective imagination - the defeat of a scourge that killed and crippled children, a moral quest, the proof that human science could defeat implacable disease, evidence that we could apply gumption and dimes and send a killer virus packing. And does it matter, the complicating facts that there was more to the story? Or does it just go to prove that humans are natural storytellers, with an instinct to pick and choose our stories based largely on what feels narratively right, even in the absence of campfires and in the presence of Wikileaks and 24/7 news?

And, to make that little segue a little more horse-worthy, a list of horse books with polio themes. There's Vian Smith's 1966 novel King Sam (which I know by the American title, Tall And Proud), whose young heroine, Gail, refuses to work at recovering from a bout of polio until a retired racehorse gives her a reason to try to walk again. There's also a Josephine Pullein-Thompson book, Show Jumping Secret (1955), which has a male protagonist with a disabled leg from polio. In Stranger Than Fiction (1984), Joyce Stranger did a fictionalized bio of a polo player who suffered a childhood bout of polio. From Australia, there's Alan Marshall's autobiographical I Can Jump Puddles (1955), which chronicles the author's experiences as a kid who got polio. The sections concerning his efforts to ride again despite having only one strong leg pop up in horse anthologies sometimes. And, of course, there's Marguerite Henry's Mustang, Wild Spirit Of The West (1966) in which the heroine recovers from a childhood polio attack.

About the authors/illustrators
Ruth Robinson Carroll (1899-1999) was the illustrator, but she was also a co-author with husband Archer Latrobe Carroll (1894-1996). The two were originally from New York, but became fascinated with the Southern Appalachia region and moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 1950.

Archer was a 1918 Harvard graduate who had an undergrad short story "The Butterfly In The Fog" published in The Best College Short Stories 1917-1918. He served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, then worked as an editor and staff writer for various companies until beginning a freelance career. Ruth was a Vassar graduate who went to art school and did the illustrations for all their collaborations. They married in 1928. Their first collaboration was The Luck Of The Roll And Go.

Other Books in series
Beanie (1953)
Tough Enough (1954)
Tough Enough's Trip (1956)
Tough Enough's Pony (1957)
Tough Enough And Sassy (1958)
Tough Enough's Indians (1960)

Other Books - animals
Pet Tales (1949)
Peanut (1952)
Salt And Pepper (1952)
Digby The Only Dog (1955)
Scuffles (1963)
Danny And The Poi Pup (1965)
The Picnic Bear (1966)
The Managing Hen And The Floppy Hound (1972)
Hullabaloo, The Elephant Dog (1975)
The Christmas Kitten

Other Books
The Luck Of The Roll And Go (1935)
Flight Of The Silver Bird (1939)
The Flying House (1946)
School In The Sky (1949)

The Tatum Family Series essay by Judy Teaford
Revisiting The Tatum family essay by Judy Teaford
The de Grummond Collection
The University of Oregon guide to the Carroll papers there
Ponymad Booklovers on the Carrolls and the Tatum series
"The Butterfly In The Fog" at Google Books
AskArt on Ruth Carroll
Asheville, North Carolina website
The Mounatin XPress about the Orthopedic Hospital
The National Park Service - The Great Smoky Mountains
Wikipedia on the Appalachias

Links to other blog reviews of the Carroll books
Peanut at Vintage Kids' Books
Peanut at Hounds In Print
Scuffles at Hounds In Print

And just to note, Hounds In Print is my neglected blog on dog books.

1 comment:

Susan in Boston said...

One more to add to your list of polio/horse books: Show Ring Rogue by Patsey Gray!