Monday, December 26, 2011

Three Wild Ones (1963)

Three Wild Ones
John Reese
1963, The Westminster Press

The grey went on the alert.  He lifted his head.  His ears shot forward curiously, then were laid back flat on his head in angry defiance.  He bunched his four feet and stood trembling, ready to stroke or kick or run.

16-year-old Art Byfield runs away from his Nebraska home after another argument with his new stepfather.  Hotly resentful of his mother’s remarriage and bored with his life, Art hits the road with little more than the shirt on his back.  Eleven days later, he’s in southern California.  He’s cold, hungry, frightened by the violence and hardness of life on the road, and still not ready to go home.  He stumbles across a small horse ranch owned by cantankerous old Grover Henry “Yuma” Schoonover, and settles in as a much-bawled-out stable hand.
Up until this point, the book is hard going.  It has a violent, disturbing core that’s evident from the first paragraph:

When they pulled out of the drive-in hamburger stand at one thirty A.M., the other car emerged through thick shadows down the road to follow them.  Art Byfield felt heavy dread as well as hot anger as he glanced from the rearview mirror to the sleepy, golden-haired girl who sat between him and Piddy Kern.  No question now – those three fellows were following him, hoping to pick up somebody else’s pretty girl.
It’s a scene to make any woman’s skin crawl, being followed home after midnight by men half drunk and wholly nasty.   It’s followed quickly by more hardscrabble scenes where Ar t runs afoul of criminals, including Yuma, who immediately tells him he’s an ex-con who went to prison for manslaughter, and threatens him with a broken bottle. 

Then Art, who has only had a mild interest in horses before, becomes interested in the grey colt Hickey, a shy and wild horse Yuma has expressly told him to leave alone.  The slow, understandable work of handling horses is a comfort to the reader and to Art, after the random, chaotic world of the criminals who have until now dominated the book.  They continue to appear – Art and Yuma tangle with a killer, and Art forms a wary friendship with a local deputy – but the emphasis shifts over to horses.
Yuma’s horses are movie horses.  Sam, a big bay gelding, is a natural ham who loves the camera and who is recruited to work on a new Western series.  When Yuma is hurt, Art takes over the job of hauling the horses to the set every day, and begins to consider stunt riding and horse training as a career. 

Hickey – grey colt
Ritzy – 15-year-old bay mare
Sam – 11-year-old bay gelding
Pancho  - buckskin gelding
Daisy – 6-year-old Thoroughbred-cross mare
Lottie – 6-year-old mare
John Henry Reese (1910-1981) mostly wrote Westerns, but a few children/teen books in the 1960s, including a dog book, Big Mutt, which I reviewed on my dog blog and liked very much.

In other news.
Christmas was a beautiful and balmy 50 degrees, my year-old review of Helga Sandburg's Blueberry has been updated with a cover image, and I have finally convinced birds to use the newest feeder.

Purple finches!!!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Updated illustrations, Black Beauty, Phoebe Erickson and gardening

It would appear - how embarassing - that I did not actually post the review of Balch's book this past summer.  I wrote it and then saved it.  Ah, well.  Once I get that review off the old computer, I can reunite it with the illustrations. 

I have figured out how to update previous posts, so the reviews of Star Dream, High Hurdles and Horse Show Hurdles should now feature their covers and interior illustrations where possible.

And now, for some pictures.  First, an entry from one of those multi-book anthologies of classic children's books.  Three guesses which book this shiny black horse goes to. 

The interiors are by Phoebe Erickson, who wrote a few horse books (Black Penny, Wildwing) in addition to illustrating the books of others.

I've never been quite able to decide if I like her art or not.  Her illustrations sometimes seem to hover between warm and cartoonish. 

I like these black and white drawings, though.

And a celebration of my garden, taken by the first frost this past November.  The idle pleasures of watering have now been subsumed by thesomewhat more aerobic acitvity of raking leaves. 

Coleus, which surprised me by growing large enough to be a small bush.  A very small bush, true, but I regard any appreciable plant growth as nothing short of miraculous when it's done beneath a massive oak tree.

A plant and a toy.  Does gardening get better than making snapdragons bite?
A portulacca, one of several which revelled in this summer's brutal heat.  They did not especially enjoy the heavy rains that started in August, however, and were essentially washed away.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Catching up

I'm having a little bit of an argument with the new computer, which charmed me by uploading 900 photos in 3 minutes and then picked a fight by refusing to let me edit older posts. So here are covers from the most recently reviewed books.

Scarcely worth it, between the quality of the art and the fact they're both hard-used library bindings. But here are the cover and some interior illustration from a review from last summer, Glenn Balch's Horse Of Two Colors.

I really do think Lorence Bjorklund is one of the best, if least-known, American illustrators.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

High Hurdles (1955) (mini review)

Dria Meredith is back home in Hilton, Indianna when her glamorous, wealthy grandmother blows into town and announces she'll be paying for Dria to train with her now 4-year-old horse, Star Dream to compete in the National Horse Show in New York City. In November.

"The National Horse Show!" Mama cried. "New York with Star Dream! Winning prizes! Acclaim!"

Dria reacts as if her grandmother had shot her pony with a bazooka.

"Oh, Mama." Dria realized what this foolish, expensive venture would cost. It wasn't worth it, not even if she wanted to go to New York, which she didn't.

More importantly, it means poor Dria will have to give up her dreams of editing the school newspaper with her boyfriend. Yes, you read that right. Dria and her whipped/obsessive boyfriend Rob -

He had spent the morning pursuing Dria; and since he expected to continue the exercise for months and years to come, one day was much like another.

- were to have spent a cozy senior year snuggled up in the newspaper office at the local high school. And now she has to spend long, cold hours at the barn training for the National Horse Show!!!!!

Needless to say, Dria makes it to the Garden, where of course Star Dream is a success. Confusing matters somewhat is Dria's cousin Camilla Lou, who crashes the week-long event for the society side. Bored with the horses, she has an eye for the men of the international teams and talks her way into the official stadium boxes of the Canadian team.

"Now, how did she ever find her way in there?" Mama had to ask... "Those boxes are reserved!"
"Well, she isn't." Dria made the statement because she had been at the horse show for the better part of a week and had never thought of seating herself there.

Considering that Dria's endless self-effacement and heroic self-sacrifice are always being rewarded with horses, free trips to huge horse shows, male adoration, parental fawning, etc., etc., you'd think she could spot her cousin one measly flirtation.

More troubling for Dria, however, is that Star Dream's success in class after class has attracted attention and sale offers. And although her great-grandmother, Dream's legal owner, is perfectly in sync with Dria and has no particular wish to sell her horse, Dria's relentless selflessness makes her aware that a sale would make financial sense for the elderly woman.

This is the third in the series, after Star Dream and Summer For Seven, which I completely skipped. I will do my best to get to it, but since I really just skimmed this one, I have my doubts as to whether the review will be any more reverent. The heroine and Lambert just set my teeth on edge.

Random commentary:
Inter-library loan is an amazing thing. One of my recent requests came to my New Jersey library from Alaska. For one dollar, the public libraries of America sent an elderly children's book roughly 3,400 miles.

I love red-tailed hawks. The muscle cars of the sky, they're highly visible and unmistakable, which is nice for the lazy sort of birdwatcher who really doesn't enjoy parsing out the difference between the Carolina and the Black-Capped Chickadee. And their scream is the eagle/hawk cry of a million movies, instantly evoking images of high plains drifters, cowboys, buttes and the wilderness.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Star Dream (1951)

Star Dream
Janet Lambert, il.
1951, E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc.

Dria's second evening at Lane Acres was unlike any she ever had spent. Due to a sudden summer rain, the whole family gathered in the parlors, and it was as if an electric wire had come loose and hung swinging in the middle of the room, with everyone skirting it, not knowing how dangerous it was. Great-Gran was the live wire that people warily avoided. Emily St. John sat on a green velvet love seat and looked at the contented old lady as if she would like to nip her off with a pair of pliers and carry her gingerly outside.

Alexandria "Dria" Meredith has been sent from her Indiana home to her great-grandmother's Virginia farm for the summer, as her parents Alexander and Elizabeth are going to the Mayo Clinic to cure her sick mother. Dria dreads the trip, as it means entering a simmering family feud that started yeas ago when her father walked away from the family factory to become a newspaperman. In residence at the farm near Lexington, Virginia, are Dria's great-grandmother Gran, her grandmother Mama, her aunt Emily, her cousin Camilla Lou, and a few employees, including the friendly handyman her own age, Chad. Dria quickly learns to adore her frail, outspoken Gran, but can't quite handle the other women of the family, whose existing loyalties and battles baffle her. She spends much of her time with Chad, learning to train the brown colt she names Star Dream.

The brown colt stood still with his little pointed ears up, his beautiful head lifted, his dainty unshod feet with their two white fore socks firmly planted. He looked like a bronze statue; and Dria knew he felt as she often had when she waited at an appointed place for her mother, watching pedestrians who were never the right person.

Dria impulsively begs her grandmother, who's selling off all her horses because she's broke, to keep the colt through the summer and let her train him, so he'll fetch a higher price. Gran, who's formed an instant fondness for Dria that rouses the ire of the rest of the household, indulgently agrees. The handyman, Tom, trains Dria to ride and teachers her how to train her colt. Dria has no worries about training, but finds riding a bit more frightening at first.

Sitting on Pokey was like sitting on a merry-go-round horse between rides, for she had no interest in the affair at all. She took a nap while Tom pushed Dria's blue jeaned thighs into the saddle, shoved down her heels and got her at a better angle. She even started off in slow motion. Dria had plenty of time to devote to herself; to watch her reins, keep her elbows in, her wrists flexed, her toes in, too, her back arched, shoulders relaxed, heels down, head up. The only trouble was, she had to do it with Tom walking and talking beside her, and he kept adding to her list before she had time to practice anything he said.

While I love the descriptions of Dria learning to ride - her first lesson passes "like a whole morning of spankings" - I'm ambivalent about the book. I've tried reading Lambert's books before - she wrote over 50, mostly teen novels - and been stymied by something elderly in their philosophy. Here, Dria nearly turns herself inside out with self-recrimination when she has a minor quarrel with her cousin, and several times all but begs her great-grandmother to sell Star Dream in order to keep family harmony. The argument between her father and his mother, a long-standing family feud that's obviously a clash between two strong-willed adults, is aggressively portrayed as being entirely the mother's fault; when peace comes, it comes because she capitulates. The female-only family Dria's grandmother has created - with her own mother, her daughter Emily and her grand-daughter Camilla Lou - is a failure, rife with acrimony and bitter scheming, while Alex's little family of wife Elizabeth and daughter Alexandria, is perfect. The mother is graciously invisible even in near-death from an illness that's never named (I assumed, based on the dying-while-fragile descriptions and some vague comments about her having surgery in the chest area, that it was either tuberculosis or cancer), and of course, little Alexandria is filled to the brim with energy and brightness, with the feminine grace of being wholly concerned with the welfare of others.

Other issues detract from the pleasure of the book. The POV is unsteady, jumping sometimes without warning from Dria, who is the usual narrator, to others and then back. Lambert clearly had a strong affection for the place - she lived in Lexington, and her fondness for it shows through - but she doesn't do much to describe the physical surroundings. Though, come to that, she also doesn't describe her characters much. This could be considered a good thing, as old teen novels have a weakness for awkward moments where the heroine's cunning hat or sparkling eyes are lovingly detailed, but it would be nice to have some idea of what anyone looks like.

The strengths? A strong major character (she's strong, just a little crazy when it comes to self-sacrifice), a forceful plot, and a convincing dilemma. Star Dream doesn't quite count as a horse book - despite the horsey content, it's just not really about the horses - but it's quite powerful as a teen novel. It handles the confusion of an extremely complicated mesh of family members (three with nearly identical names) to show a teenager grappling with family dynamics in a clan where the money and the power reside in different people.

The actual cover can be seen at Jane Badger Books ( or at Image Cascade
( which reprinted the books around 2000. My copy, acquired through interlibrary loan, is lacking a dust jacket. There is only one illustration, a black-and-white drawing on the title page which makes Dria look about 17 although I believe she's supposed to be about 14 in this book and behaves like an unusually serious-minded 11-year-old most of the time.

The Dria series
Star Dream (1951)
Summer For Seven (1952)
High Hurdles (1955)

Saturday, October 29, 2011


This is how late October is supposed to look in NJ - the leaves of a few trees, mostly the maples, flaming out suddenly, the rest starting to turn and fall. Coolness, a sudden chill in the morning. Realizing that the humid, oppressive jungle of summer insects and plant life is gone, that even the insects that are still around and the plants that are still thriving both look thinner, weaker. The earth and the water, covered for months in flowers and leaves and vines and ants and beetles, revealed again, heading back toward winter's stark mass.

Today's sleet, on the other hand, and nor'easter, are atypical and not altogether welcome. I love a rainy, sleepy Saturday more than the average person - I'd rather curl up inside and snooze when it rains, instead of thrashing my way back and forth to Philadelphia, and work. But sleet? Sleet? I was just adjusting to the end of summer, and winter is already here.

It doesn't seem to be bothering the birds much; they staged a protest out at the feeders, complaining that there was nothing there for them, until I relented and stuck my head out long enough to rip a day-old French bread apart and throw it out. A couple hours later, there was a flock plus a fat grey squirrel prospecting in the weeds for stray crumbs. Somewhere, the black cat who's convinced the feeder is actually being manned for his convenience is dreaming of the rain stopping and his paws wrapping around some bird's neck. A few feet from the computer, my dog is dreaming of finding the black cat and being his best friend. She loves cats but cats do not generally realize that her attempts to run right over to them are meant to be friendly.

Thanks to the joys of interlibrary loan, I've gotten my hands on two old horse books, Janet Lambert's Star Dream (1951) and High Hurdles (1955). I've been reading the first, which is very enjoyable but sometimes very odd. As in many older books, the female protagonist's age is difficult to discern; she is old enough to date (a little) and be aware of her parents' troubles, but her artlessness makes for an unconvincing teenager. And I still haven't recovered from the scene where she suddenly refers to the the Soviet Union's NKVD; coming midway through a book whose tone and setting are gently, vaguely prewar, the modern reference is yelp-inducing.

Draw With Same Savitt

I've acquired a few more books, notably Suzanne Wilding's The Book of Ponies, illustrated by Sam Savitt. The book herd is rapidly approaching critical mass, and as we're now rapidly approaching Christmas, I'm afraid the reckoning I've been postponing since July is also looming. Or I could just stick them all in the attic.

And now I need to go dig out some Halloween candy and have a little snack. Inspired by the frozen day, I spent two hours making a very bad chili for lunch (underspriced, over-tomatoed, generally a failure which might redeem itself in reheating) but now I have to tackle dinner. I would like to skip dinner and proceed directly to popcorn while watching the Lost Boys sequel, but that would probably be an unpopular decision with the rest of the household.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Searching for more information about Charles Livingston Bull, the illustrator for Albert Payson Terhune’s books, I stumbled across a blog about the Old West in popular culture, Buddies In The Saddle. He has a review of an old book, The Untamed by George Pattulla (1911), which is a collection of stories where various animals, including horses and mules, are the main characters.

A more recent book is Hartslove by K.M Grant. I’ve flipped through Grant’s earlier books, but never really got into them. Her new one looks promising – the “and then my genteelly rich family put all their eggs into one racehorse basket” plot alone is worth a look.

And here’s a piece from the blog Flash Fiction about a tongue-tied 10-year-old horse and book nut meeting Walter Farley in 1975.

And a review at For The Love Of Books of the Snow Man biography. I have to finish my copy, but the first few chapters were disappointing.

And an interesting review of a new book I hadn’t heard about, G. Neri’s Ghetto Cowboy, based on Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street stables.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Another weekend, another book sale

It's awf'lly bad luck on Diana,

Her ponies have swallowed their bits;

She's fished down their throats with a spanner

And frightened them all into fits.

Hunter Trials by John Betjeman; The Poetry of Horses, ed. William Cole

Friday night, I got a jump on the weekend and went book shopping at a charity sale held in the back of beyond. I came out, lugging 3 bags of ancient, stinking, flaking reading material and roughly $25 lighter, to find an enormous thunderhead looming. Cursing, I ran to the car and spent the next hour cautiously driving around the storm. This journey was made all the more interesting because I was not 100% sure where I was. I lucked out and managed to never be where the storm was raging at any given time, though I did drive through a few places where it had just drowned the roads and/or knocked down the trees.

But I made it back, as did the loot. They're a mixed bag; more amazing nonfiction selections (somebody must have contributed a lifetime library of racing books) and some tantalizing reeking-but-must-have fiction, and few elderly cookbooks. Which are another minor failing. I don't really cook, but I do like cookbooks.

Horse Fiction
Who, Sir? Me, Sir? by K.M. Peyton (which I've just re-read today and sigh)*
The Poetry Of Horses ed. William Cole*
The Valley Of The Ponies by Jean Slaughter Doty* one of her harder to locate books
Races To The Swift ed by Fairfax Downey - short racing stories

Horse Non-fiction
Horse Crazy by Bronwyn Llewellyn - a collection of essay about women and horses
The Equestrian Woman by Ann Martin - bios of women in different horse sports
The Boy Who Talks To Horses by Ivy Jackson Banks
Mark Phillips by by Angela Rippon
Olympic Vet by Joseph C. O'Dea - looks to be a very interesting read covering half the 20th century in equine sport
Women Of The Year by Jacqueline Duke (about racing fillies)
Women In Racing by John & Julia McEvoy
Forward Motion by Holly Menino

Ordinary Jack by Helen Cresswell (which I promptly read, having always wanted to read this first of the Bagthorpe saga, which is not simple to locate in the US, and finally, finally finding out about Grandma's party and how it came to burn out the dining room)*

Stranger On The Bay
by Adrien Stoutenburg - some sort of mystery for teens, looks promisingly old

Hors d'Oeuvre and Canapes by James Beard - which has this little DO from a guide to the cocktail party: DO know how many are coming and do know that they are congenial. Remember the Montagues and the Capulets and judge accordingly.

Big Mutt by John Reese- extremely battered dog book.

Wild Animal Man by Damoo Dhotre - a companion of sorts to the circus book I reviewed here one, Circus Doctor.

The Lost Pet Chronicles by Kat Albrecht

Betty Crocker's Guide To Easy Entertaining - oh, how I love this 1959 book; my old copy was in tatters, and this one is perfect. I've never actually cooked from it, the appeal lies in the sense it conveys of a world of serene, universally understood manners: A reasonable hour to leave after dinner is 11, or slightly earlier on a weekday. The good guest, asked for such an affair as tea from 5 to o7, does not linger after the later hour unless specifically invited to do so. Having all but dropped from exhaustion after hosting parties where guests simply refused to leave, I read these pages with a sense of hungry yearning.

Cooking With Soup: A Campbell Cookbook - Again, I will probably never cook from it but it was unthinkable to leave it behind, as I had family who worked for Campbell Soup when it still had factories in NJ, and I went to school in Camden, alongside the big, old buildings where the company originated. This sort of reasoning is why books are running amok in my house.

* These books are, unfortunately, stinkers. A local library is a sick building, one of those monolithic 1960s structures which appear to have been built either to prove that America too could produce Stalinist architecture or to withstand a direct nuclear blast. Concrete from head to toe, it hunkers into the ground, the only natural light coming from a small set of front doors which open not directly into the library but into a tunnel-like entryway, and a smattering of narrow horizontal windows set so high in the walls that they meet the roof. Which has deep eaves. The kicker is that this love song to damp was built in a low-lying area, so it's a mold's paradise. And the poor books smell of it. I've never met books which smelled worse. The fun part is this nightmare library is finally being replaced, and the librarians have been busy getting rid of old books. First they sold them at their own book sales - where I lost my head and bought 2 bags of them, which I clung to grimly for 2 months before admitting it was a lost cause and dumping them - and then, in the way used books circulate through an area, they've begun traveling in ever-increasing circles radiating out from their origins. This latest sale is the furthest I've found them, and I knew they were there the moment I walked in.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The perfect number of books

What's the perfect number of books? Personally, I think it's exactly the amount you can cram into a house without sending any one floor crashing into the one below. I am not generally acquisitive; I can window-shop for ages, and leave stores without buying anything. Part of this is frugality, part is a deep horror of adding more possessions to my limited space. But this admirable self-control stems also from the unavoidable fact that much of that space is already filled with books. Books, most awkward and filthy of possessions, are my weakness.

And this weekend, I managed to add more, mostly nonfiction of the large and somewhat moldering variety. W. Menzendorf's Kavalkade, which is in German and of which I can understand exactly three words: "Hans," "Winkler," and "Halla." A strange, small Scholastic edition of Son Of The Black Stallion, in which Satan has a very odd look in his eye. I don't believe I've ever seen any Farley book put out in the smaller format. The Horseman's Bible by Jack Coggin, which I recall with great fondness, the sort of book which shows you exactly how to put on a bridle. Creative Horsemanship by Charles de Kunffy, a 1978 printing, which will go straight into my stack of books which I should read, and will do directly I finish both my sensible, balanced dinner and my core-strengthening exercise. Riding The International Way. Successful Show-Jumping by Daphne Machin Goodall. Show Jumper by Dorian Williams. Ruffian by Edward Claflin. And, most fun of all from the perspective of a pony book fan, Horsemanship For Beginners by Jean Slaughter, who as Jean Slaughter Doty would go on to write some of the very best American horse books - Summer Pony, The Crumb, The Monday Horses.

There will need to be evictions. There will need to be shuffling. But not until the heat breaks. Until then, I will huddle beside the air conditioner and read.

Friday, July 8, 2011


Sorry about the lack of illustrations on the preceeding review; I'm working on a borrowed computer while doing research to replace my latest deceased PC, and only using images I already had stashed on a flash drive. This blog may look more like a chamber of commerce ad for the Delaware Valley for a while, as local shots are what I have for illustration.

If, like me, you haven't gone on vacation in a while, here's a vicarious riding vacation in Iceland, courtesy of the Horse Breeders' Association of Iceland. Beautiful, but terrifyingly rocky terrain. When I fall off, I like to hit sand or soil, not stone.

(Also sorry about the generally low-tech style; I'm wrestling with an iMac, and I've never liked Apple computers so it's a learning curve trying to get this one to do what I want.)

A book to keep an eye out for this summer is a new nonfiction about Snow Man, the show jumper who was rescued off a slaughterhouse-bound truck. The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts is due out August 23 from Ballantine.

And a completely unhorsey and unbookish tangent just because.

Well, I had to include a seasonal reference. So here are two bald eagles, residents of a wildlife rehab center/nature center in the Pine Barrens. There is something about their coloration that makes them just surreal to see in person, so to speak.

A somewhat gimlet-eyed Peregrine Falcon.

A cedar lake, shining brown in the sun. It's like swimming in tea, and just as effective at dying you, your bathing suit, your hair...

And the culprit, the cedar trees.

It's a bit more complicated than that, but I'm content with blaming the trees.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Horse Show Hurdles (1957)

Horse Show Hurdles
Joan Houston, il. Paul Brown1957, Thomas Y. Crowell Company  

A June wind, blowing down from the Vermont hills, parted Tam's dark bangs and flattened her shirt against her thin arms and chest. Her mouth was open a little, and her thick brows were pulled down in a frown of concentration as she pressed her heels against Bobolink's sides, urging the sorrel horse to a faster and showier trot.

13-year-old Tam Wade is finally back in the country at her uncle Pete's farm after the winter of New York City and school. Her favorite haunt is the Wilby Stable, but this year, it's under threat. A newer, flashier establishment is luring away customers. Tam is loyal, but Frank Wilby, the forthright old horseman who owns the barn, is his own worst enemy. Sure, LeRoy's stable is competition, but Frank's bad temper when faced with the sleazy LeRoy is the bigger problem.  

"What do I care where you ride?" Frank's jaw was set dangerously. "It's no business of mine." He gave a kind of growl in his throat, rather like a dog when it is angry, and strode off to the barn.

Loyal despite Frank's tantrums, Tam spends the summer working hard to save the barn with the help of stableboy Steven and her fickle sister Cynthia. Also in the mix is LeRoy's new instructor, the glamorous French dressage master Captain Boudreau, and Frank's sister Miss Wilby. Tam's easy, youthful dismissal of the latter shows she's not quite the free-thinking young tomboy she pretends to be, but she gets a sharp surprise late in the day. The rivalry between the barns builds all summer, culminating in a near-tragedy at the local horse show.

The book's good points include generous illustrations by Paul Brown, a strong plot and some nuanced characters. On the minus side, the action drags in the middle, and the villain is flat. Although the author's treatment of the inevitable 'emotional growth' aspect of the heroine's story is subtler and most effective than most, it's also a bit clumsily done. One oddity is how the barns are presented - while LeRoy is clearly a sleaze, Frank Wilby is an angry crank whose instruction apparently isn't up to much. The emphasis is all on loyalty, with little interest in our heroine as to how best to advance her riding. When her sister Cynthia, under the sway of a snobby, image-obsessed pal, defects to the rival barn, Tam's incensed.

A good, brisk read which lacks something. Perhaps it's that Tam, for all she loves horses and her own adored Merlin, is usually more caught up in arguing with her sister or scheming against LeRoy than actually riding.

Bobolink - sorrel gelding
Pinwheel - chestnut mare
Merlin - black gelding
Firefly - filly
Riot - Irish Terrier (dog)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Another old book gets a re-issue!

The 1965 book A Kingdom In A Horse by Maia Wojciechowska, which I reviewed here in 2009, is being reprinted in paperback by Skyhorse Publishing under their children's fiction imprint Sky Pony Press (February 1, 2012). In the book, a mare named Gypsy unites an odd couple; a teenage boy angry at his father for quitting the rodeo just as he became old enough to start competing, and an older woman whose childhood love of horses returns to sustain her after her husband dies. Skyhorse also featured previously on this blog in 2009 as the company responsible for reprinting Sam Savitt's first illustrated book, Gordon Wright's 1966 Learning To Ride, Hunt And Show.

In other coming attractions:

The beautifully illustrated Horse Diaries series has another installment due in late October, Alison Hart's Risky Chance, about a Thoroughbred racehorse during the 1930s. (Random House, October 25)

The Winter Pony by Iain Lawrence (November 8, 2011, Random House) follows a wild white pony who becomes caught up in Scott's expedition to the South Pole.

The Breyer Horse Collection has another installment as well in Jessie Haas's Chico's Challenge (November 8).

Dandi Daley Mackall has a new series from Christian press Tyndale House Publishers in Backyard Horse. The first book is Horse Dreams, and the second is Cowboy Colt. Both appear to be scheduled for a September release. The idea behind the series is (from Tyndale's website):

The theme of the Backyard Horses series is that being beautiful on the outside is not the most important quality to develop. Our inward appearance is much more important to God (1 Samuel 16:7).

An interesting approach in the horsey genre, which has always had a weakness for great bloodlines and spectacular talent.

Jane Smiley has another Young Adult novel coming out in True Blue (September 27, Knopf). Her young heroine has a fairly common fictional experience of effortlessly inheriting The Horse Of Her Dreams, but begins to suspect that the horse's deceased owner is haunting her. Another interesting approach that appears to rethink the classic "Oh, some old adult person died and left me Whickers!" plot.

The Eighty Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired A Nation, by Elizabeth Letts is due out from Ballantine on August 23, 2011. Bought out of the infamous New Holland auction in 1956, actually taken from the slaughterhouse-bound truck, Snowman repaid new owner Harry de Leyer by becoming a quality show jumper. He also became a bit of a celebrity, his rags-to-riches story complimenting his appealing personality.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Big Black Horse (1953)

Big Black Horse
Walter Farley, il. James Schucker
1953, Random House

Walter Farley's classic horse novel The Black Stallion made over into a simple intro-to-reading board book for younger children, with bright color illustrations and darker, more realistic black-and-whites. It was re-released by Random House in 2007.

I've always liked these illustrations, but the scale is sometimes a little odd. Funny how the Farley books had a variety of illustrators who all seem to have grasped the essential high style and fantasy element of the books, and reflected it in their work. Even the out-sized stallion here fits right in - the books frequently insist on The Black's enormity, his vast physical presence, and how he's far larger than a normal Arabian.

The Black Stallion website
James A. Michener Art Mueum on Schucker
2010 interview with Farley's widow

About the illustrator
James Schucker (1903-1988) was, like Farley, a long-time resident of Pennsylvania. He did magazine illustrations and advertising as well as book illustrating. In the event anyone goes looking for his circus books, fair warning, his clown illustrations are hugely disturbing.

Other books
Little Black, A Pony
Little Black Goes To The Circus
Little Black Pony Races
The Horse Tamer (dj for original 1958 hardcover)
The Big Book Of The Real Circus
The Book Of Clowns
The Big Treasure Book Of Clowns
The Wonder Book Of Trucks

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Golden Prize and Other Stories of Horses (1965)

Golden Prize and Other Stories of Horses
1965, A Whitman Book, Western Publishing
Il. Cliff Schule

“He’s mine! I won him. He’s all mine.”
“Golden Prize” by Erva Loomis Merow

This collection of short horse stories for the younger reader is clearly intended for an audience with very basic reading skills. The plots are simple, the language plain and a little dull. All appear to have been written for this collection.

The cover illustration fits none of the stories. The interior illustrations have that strange, muted muddy tone that Whitman seems to have inflicted on all its books - here it's reddish; two other Whitman books I have (More Than Courage and The Wolf Of Thunder Mountain) have a slightly more clear green. All have different illustrators, so it's not the artists. All, of course, suffer the brittleness that I complained about in my review of More Than Courage, though I have managed to not actually destroy this book just by reading it.

List of stories
Golden Prize by Erva Loomis Merow
Molly Takes A Holiday by Mabel Watts
Runaway Rob by Peg Bottomley
Lefty, The Wrong-Way Pony by Florence Laughlin
Dancer Carries Double by Trella Lamson Dick
The Cow Pony
by Bernadine Beatie
Coco, The Circus Horse by Jean Fiedler
A Present For Peanuts by Eva Grant
Clancy’s Last Tour by Jean Lewis
Little Con by Ellen Dolan
by Jean Lewis
Golden Ghost Stallion by Sharon Wagner


“Golden Prize” by Erva Loomis Merow
A small boy enters his name in a department store raffle and wins a horse. A pleasantly unlikely tale, complete with happy ending, despite the little snag that Terry and his parents live in an apartment.

Molly Takes A Holiday by Mabel Watts
The seashore would put sparkle in my eyes, thought Molly. It would bring back my appetite. She looked at Mr. Freddy with her big brown eyes. Then she laid her head against his arm.

A fishmonger takes his cart horse down the shore with him, and is richly rewarded when she saves him from drowning. An enchanted public promptly calls for a law decreeing all working horses receive a vacation each year. By far the most entertaining and well written story in the collection.

Runaway Rob by Peg Bottomley
The smallest pony in the circus gets fed up with coming dead last in the parade and runs away to find the respect and love he craves. Polly, meanwhile, sees a chance to get herself a pony and goes in search of the missing equine.

Lefty, The Wrong-Way Pony by Florence Laughlin
A dude ranch pony is afraid to turn to the right, making him very unpopular with the young campers. Then Peter comes along and tries to work Lefty past his fear.

Dancer Carries Double by Trella Lamson Dick
Nancy talks her big brother into taking her along on a ride on Dancer, to climb into the mountains in search of an eagle’s nest. When Gary is hurt, Nancy must ride the big horse down to find help.

The Cow Pony by Bernadine Beatie
A judge of horses would have known he was a quarter horse, prized by cattlemen all over the West. But this was dairy country. Few of the men or boys at the auction knew or cared very much about horses.

When Jodie sees a tired, defeated-looking horse at an auction, he bids on him out of pity. Then, a bull gets loose and Rebel’s instincts and training take over. Well done, though the classic dig at the tameness and dullness of farm country versus The West is a little much.

Coco, The Circus Horse by Jean Fiedler
A rosinback becomes frustrated with never having the chance to show off his tricks, and runs away in search of an appreciative audience.

A Present For Peanuts by Eva Grant
Jimmy and his friends race to save their favorite lesson horse, Peanuts, from being ‘sent away,’ which they realize means he’s to be killed because he’s growing too old to handle regular work. Some anachronisms are that the sympathetic stableman is ready to send Peanuts to an early grave, and 15 is considered too old to work.

Clancy’s Last Tour by Jean Lewis
Skip loves visiting with New York City police horse Clancy every day in Times Square, and is sad that Clancy is set to retire to the force’s farm upstate in just a few days.

Little Con by Ellen Dolan
Danny’s uncle buys him a Connemara from gypsies who promptly cause a fire and cause Danny and Con to race off across the Irish countryside in search of help.

Partners by Jean Lewis
Another New York City setting, as a pair of siblings try to take over their ailing grandfather’s horse and buggy ride through Central Park.

Golden Ghost Stallion by Sharon Wagner
Two children at a Montana dude ranch go in search of a mysterious palomino stallion, driven by their conviction that he’s trying to communicate. Fanciful, but nicely done.

Many if not all of the authors were specialists in writing picture books for very young children; several of them have multiple titles for Elf (very small, square picture books which had glorious color-saturated illustrations and which are typically somewhat fragile, having a binding which tends to unravel) and appear to have made a nice living from picture-book versions of popular television series ranging from Lassie to Swiss Family Robinson.

Erva Loomis Merow (b. 1922)

A Wisconsin native who was a teacher and missionary. She also wrote Pony (1965, A Whitman Tell-A-Tale Book), a photo book for beginner readers about a foal playing with a ball.
University of Wisconsin Hall of Fame

Mabel Watts (1906-) Born in London, she eventually became an American citizen. She did many picture books, including Henrietta And The Hat (1962), a charming horse story I’ve been meaning to review here for ages. Other horse books include Read-Aloud Horse Stories, Casey The Clumsy Colt, Little Horseman (1961, Elf picture book), and Helpful Henrietta (1959, Elf picture book)

De Grummond Collection
Little Horseman
on eBay

Florence Laughlin
I have to admit an element of malice for this author; one of my other book interests is children’s stories about witches (there are, for the record, quite a few of them, so this isn’t completely insane) and Laughlin wrote one I can’t stand, The Little Leftover Witch. Nearly all these books end with the erstwhile witch child happily becoming a normal kid, so I shouldn’t really hold it against Laughlin, but the illustrations are so attractive and the little witch so bad at first, the ultimate resolution is doubly depressing. Laughlin wrote a seemingly horse-themed book in The Horse From Topolo (1966), but it appears to refer to a Mexican artifact rather than a real animal.

Trella Lamson Dick (1889-1974)
Another teacher, she wrote a popular series about an adventurous boy, Tornado Jones, as well as the equine story Burro On The Beach (1967) (il. Ted Lewin), about siblings who discover donkeys employed on a Pacific Northwest beach to haul cars off the sand.
The Children’s Literature Research Collections at the University of Minnesota

Bernadine Beatie
Evidently a Mormon (based on her presence in a book of short children’s stories in an anthology which states its purpose is to promote Mormon values). The Mormons, as anyone who has ever taken an interest in researching their family tree already knows, have a thing for documentation and some of Beatie’s short stories live online through the main website for the Saints. Her horse-themed story, Josef And The Lippizanners (January 1983, Friend) is here. She also has a horse story, “Danny And The Palomino,” in a horse anthology published by the magazine Highlights For Children - Storm’s Fury: And Other Horse Stories (1992)

Jean Fiedler
She wrote in a variety of genres, including Young Adult novels, mysteries, and picture book versions of 1960’s TV shows like Lassie, Gentle Ben and Daktari.

Jean Lewis
Did picture books for The Flintstones, Tweety, Lassie, Benji, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Scooby Doo and other television shows and movies. Most horsey (and, to my mind, most amusingly), she did books for Rainbow Brite, the 1980’s Hallmark cartoon featuring exceptionally sparkly, candy-colored girls and their pet horses WHO CAN FLY. Please see video below for exceptional levels of giggling and repressed feelings of wanting a sparkly white horse with a rainbow mane.

Sharon Wagner (1936-)
Born in Idaho, raised in Montana and a college student in Colorado. Most well-known by horse fans for her Gypsy series (Gypsy From Nowhere, Gypsy And Nimblefoot, Gypsy And The Moonstone Stallion), Wagner also wrote another horse book, Prairie Lady (aka Prairie Wind), and the somewhat horsey Dude Ranch Mystery, but most of her more than 40 books were Gothic romances. Which makes sense, seeing as how horse stories are essentially Gothic romances minus a man.

Illustrator - Cliff Schule
Also illustrated Saddle Patrol by Carl Henry Rathjen(1970) – odd note, Rathjen was one of several writers who produced a volume in the Trixie Belden series. He also wrote two horse stories which appeared in The Boys’ Life Book Of Horse Stories (1963), “The Curb Bit” and “Sacrifice Spurs.” He also had a horse story in The American Girl Book of Sports Stories (1965), “Trophy For Sheri.”

Other editions
Whitman Books went into paperback as Golden Press in the 1970s, and Golden Prize was no exception. The paperback featured on this sale site reeks of the latter era.

And a Rainbow Brite video!!!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Totally nothing to do with horses, books, ponies or even chronicles

Daylilies, looking like the thugs they are

It was over 80 degrees today, and didn't get dark out till 7:30pm. A day to drive home from work with the windows open and Springsteen playing. And then start hauling out the gardening books.

Suppose a wicked uncle who wished to check your gardening zeal left you pots of money on condition you grew only one species of plant: what would you choose?
My Garden In Spring by E.A. Bowles (1914)


He chose the iris. While I admire the fleur de lis, particularly the little yellow ones that grow wild around here, I'd choose dahlias or zinnias (possibly peonies). I'm not the tastefully understated sort of gardener; I like flowers that meet you halfway and knock you over. At the moment, though, I mostly confine my gardening fervor to wildflowers spotted and photographed on walks. This allows the dog to get some exercise, and me to avoid that finance-shattering temptation, the nursery.



But I may buy some pansies. They have sweet faces, are fragrant, thrive in shade and have the good grace to die by mid-summer, just when you have completely gotten over the whole gardening mania for another year. And I've managed to beat back the English Ivy just enough to clear a small border where they'd look wonderful.

There is one link between horses, books and gardens - they're bankrupters, all of them. I find gardens the worst because I can, just about, manage to resist the temptation to purchase livestock, and books can be bought cheaply unless you're fussy about editions and conditions, which I am not, as a rule. But good, healthy plants never come cheap. And like horses, they have an uncanny ability to sicken, to get into accidents, and to languish in a semi-useless state of non-productivity for no apparent reason.

And next time, back to horse books with a review of a fairly new acquisition, another frail Whitman Book.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Wesley Dennis's ponies

In Wild About Horses, a nonfiction book which examines the history of humans with horses, author Lawrence Scanlan devotes one chapter to ponies, and attempts to understand the phrase "pony character," as used by the breeders and owners he interviews. While he maintains he never quite got the whole idea, he came up with a good starting point:

I imagine that a pony with pony character has a strong sense of his own self.

Although Wesley Dennis did many pictures of horses, there's something infinitely appealing about his ponies. Their shaggy roundness offsets their ever-alert ears, making a portrait of scruffy, everyday realism that is so much more inviting than the elegant perfection of, say, Anderson's flawlessly long-striding Thoroughbreds or Savitt's athletic hunters. And maybe that is another part of pony character; reality. You never hear about a pony having "the look of eagles;" there are no legends of wild ponies leaping to their deaths to escape the mustangers. They're not fanciful or legendary. And Dennis's ponies look like realists.

Your Pony Book by Hermann Wiederhold

Dennis's collaborations with Marguerite Henry were the most famous, but he illustrated a slew of other pony books where that 'pony character' came through the illustrations.

The Ginger Horse by Maureen Daly

A Cavalcade of Horses, ed. Florence K. Peterson and Irene Smith

Old Bones by Mildred Mastin Pace

Your Pony Book by Hermann Wiederhold

The Wesley Dennis website