Friday, February 25, 2011

Hopalong Cassidy And The Bar 20 Cowboy (1952)

When I was cleaning out the attic, I came across a dead squirrel, cardboard boxes from mercantile establishments no longer in existence (R.I.P., Lit Brothers, Wanamakers and Strawbridge & Clothier) and several long-lost books. Including this Little Golden Book.

E.M. Beecher, il. Sahula-Dycke
1952, Simon and Schuster
Based on characters created by Clarence E. Mulford

Starting in the 1920s, Clarence E. Mulford wrote 28 Western novels starring a heroic cowboy (Louis L'Amour would write another four). Paramount brought the character to the screen in 1935, using silent film actor William Boyd. 65 films later, Hopalong Cassidy was an industry that spawned a radio show, television programs and personal appearances by Boyd and his horse Topper.

Now, I never saw the movies or TV series, but I loved these illustrations. Also, the idea of sneaking up on a horse and capturing it for my very own.

And then branding it neatly with my own initials.

Looking at these illustrations again reminds me how I used to love pintos. Now they call them paints and they're muscular Quarter Horse types, but I grew up reading stories where pintos were always scrawny little Indian ponies, who lived wild and free on the wide prairies.

About the author.
I couldn't find anything about E.M. Beecher, but my real interest was in the artist, anyway. Ignantz Sahula-Dycke (1900-1982) was born in Austria, emigrated to the U.S. and eventually specialized in art of the Southwest.

Hopalong Cassidy website
Wikipedia - Hopalong Cassidy
B-Westerns about Topper
Fusco Four Modern - Sahula-Dycke
Toklak website - Sahula-Dycke
Mulford's books at Fantastic Fiction
Wikipedia on Lit Bros.
- on Wanamaker's
- on Strawbridge & Clothier

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cactus Kevin (1965)

Cactus Kevin
B. Holland Heck, il. Lorence Bjorklund
1965, The World Publishing Company

"A fellow on a farm has to have a horse."

It's 1944, and Kevin Bryson's parents have just moved the family from Tulsa to a farm (his dad, working at the Douglas Aircraft Company, a war industry, is presumably exempt from the draft). He's never been on a horse, and he has trouble remembering his new chores, but he loves being out in the country and once he sees a neighbor's palomino gelding, he's in love. The neighbor, a brat named Freddie, is notorious for mishandling his horse, which further inflames Kevin. But apart from the Bryson's lack of money, there's a problem in that the former city boy is fighting his parents' doubt that he is responsible enough to have a horse. From leaving the calf without water to teaching the rooster to fight, Kevin seems to constantly give his father a reason to be exasperated.

The family has problems apart from his wanting a pony they can't afford. Kevin's mother is struggling to maintain a primitive, rural house, while his father is discouraged by the sizable task of bringing a neglected farm back to life. Their worst problem is their well is dry, something the previous owner failed to mention. As the family slowly moves forward, digging a new well, buying calves, and learning the ins and outs of tractor control, Kevin is often too busy dealing with the new demands of farm life to long for a horse.

It rained again that night, making the ground muddier than ever. The Brysons scarcely knew how to cope with the mud. Dad said, "That's the blackest, stickiest, contrariest stuff I ever saw." Kevin thought both Dad and Mom seemed a little defeated by it. A variety of thin, straggly grass grew in the yard, but it didn't keep them out of the mud as their lawn grass in town had done. This grass pulled up by the roots with the mud, helping to hold the mud together that much tighter.

Kevin eventually gets his chance, Freddie gets his comeuppance, and the family triumphs over their early adversity. A very solid story about a family, but not particularly horsey as most of the book is about the family's struggles with the farm. I'm a sucker for tales about Black Angus calves, tractors and digging wells, but I was a bit disappointed, especially as the few really horsey scenes are flat. There is one hair-raising accident scene, which you can see coming the first time Freddie uses his horse to race the school bus.

Like most farm books, it does an excellent job of showing the dangerous side of farming; Kevin, who rides out the above rear without turning a hair, is terrified when his father's first ride on the new tractor nearly turns to tragedy.

Heck also does a nice job of presenting realistic characters. The mother isn't saintly or silly; the little sister is bratty but strong (and Kevin swings between "Awww, sis" reactions and doing things like building her the snow horse above), and the father can get discouraged and unreasonable. Perhaps reflecting the isolation of their ranch, there are few characters outside the family, apart from old Wrangler Slim, an old man living nearby who befriends them when Kevin, early on, wanders into a cactus patch, and who gives him his nickname.

About the Author
Bessie Holland Heck based this book on her own family's adventures, and Kevin was based on her son Ronald. She was married with five children, a freelance writer who lived in Tulsa and, during World War II, on an acreage just like the Bryson family's.

Other books
Millie (1961) (il. Mary Stevens)
The Hopeful Years (1964) (il. Lorence Bjorklund)
The Year At Boggy (1966) (il. Paul Frame) - adventures of farm workers' children
Captain Pete (1967) (il. Robert Cassell)
Golden Arrow (1981) - also horsey (il. Charles Robinson) (Scribner)
Cave-In At Mason's Mine (il., Charles Robinson) (Encore Editions)
Danger On The Homestead (1991) (Levite Of Apache Publishing)
Taming The Homestead (sequel to above)

The books after 1981 appear to have been published by a very small regional publisher, and little information is available on them. All the books appear to be juvenile fiction.

de Grummond Collection
Ponymad Booklovers blog on Heck
Jane Badger Books about Heck
Catoosa, OK

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Horse books that aren't

Looks promising, doesn't it? A girl, a horse, waves. And to be accurate, there are horses in the plot.

13-year-old Alyssa lost her parents to a hurricane when she was ten, and has been mute ever since. She can't even tell her beloved grandfather that she would really rather he not sell their small riding stable on the Gulf Coast and send her to live with her disapproving aunt Melinda. Despite the presence of several factors I can't stand - including a harpy aunt with a saintly husband, a heroine presented as an eternal and pretty victim, and a male relative with a bit o' dialect from t'old country - it's a well-written book. Just not a horse book.

The most famous horse-book-that-isn't has to be The Red Pony, Steinbeck's bloody Valentine for the pony set.

In writing this blog, I've been flexible in my definition of 'pony book,' largely because the genre as traditionally defined is a small, starved portion of American children's books. We just do not have many books about adolescent girls riding in gymkhanas. So I've been easy-going, as if you haven't noticed. My guideline has been, if it whinnies or brays, it can go in. And I'm a sucker for illustration, so I've included picture books, and then I'm still recovering from a childhood of Walter Farley and C.W. Anderson so a disproportionate amount of racing posts have snuck in. So where does the line go for 'horse book' and 'not-a-horse-book'?

I'd say it goes between books which treat the horse as a symbol (of girlish childhood, of freedom, etc.) and those that treat them as actual horses. I suppose the former isn't terribly unreasonable. Though it remains a mystery to me, there are a lot of people who grew up around horses and essentially thought of them as if they were bikes; fun, somewhat useful, a nice thing to have, if you're a good person you take good care of it, but nothing to get all excited about.

Though, when you cut it like that, was National Velvet a horse book? Was My Friend Flicka? Both focused on their dreamy heroes and to a large extent the horses, although they took a satisfying chunk of center stage, were symbols of dreams and growth. Can a book that attempts to be more than genre writing be a horse book, or are horse books, a mini-genre themselves, too simplistic?

What do you think?

Mister Ed, The Talking Horse (1962)

Mister Ed, The Talking Horse
Barbara Shook Hazen, il. Mel Crawford
1962, Golden Press

Ed, having taken possession of the phone once again, invites an entire orphanage to visit for the weekend.

I really have no excuse for this, except that I have always loved the illustrations in this Little Golden Book.

In talking horse-related topics, the cheerful memoir Alan Young (aka Wiiiiiilbuuuur!) published in 1995, Mister Ed And Me, is worth a read.

About the author
Hazen was born in Ohio, worked in publishing and then began freelancing as a children's writer after her son was born. She has written over fifty books.

About the illustrator
Canadian-born Crawford seems to be one of the most popular illustrators for Little Golden Books. As the post on the blog Illustration Station shows, Crawford did another equine-themed Little Golden Book in 1958's Fury Takes The Jump.

Barbara Shook Hazen's website
de Grummond Collection on Hazen
Illustration Station
Mel Crawford's blog
Mel Crawford on a website about collecting Little Golden Books
Alan Young's website

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Puddleby (2010)

The writer/publisher of this book very kindly sent me a copy to review.

Thea Wilcox, il. Lorraine Ortner-Blake
2010, Puddleby Pony, LLC

"We are a family, even though we are different types of animals. No one is going to separate us!"

The little chestnut pony Puddleby is happy living with his friends Smooch (a pot-bellied pig) and Cedric (an old white goose), and the three conspire to remain together whenever potential buyers come to look at Puddleby. This changes when Miss Thea arrives. She can literally understand their speech, and quickly discerns that the three want to stay together. They go to live on Windham Hill Farm, where Puddleby makes equine friends for the first time. But living with show ponies makes the tiny Puddleby worry about his own talents. Too small to be ridden by any but the smallest of children, a poor jumper, with plain movement, he's clearly not meant for show ring success. What he doesn't realize is that Miss Thea has had a plan for him all along - she wants to use him as a therapy pony.

This is a sweet book with charming illustrations and an attractive, fairy-tale quality. The first half, which focuses on the animals, flows better than the second half, which introduces elements requiring more explanation. At this point, the story and the language become somewhat more labored as the author struggles to introduce new characters and convey the nature of the training Puddleby undergoes.

The book seems to have originated with a real-life therapy pony, and was written to raise money for a charity, Going Miles For Smiles, which appears to focus on the use of therapy ponies.

I was somewhat confused by the Miles For Smiles purpose. I'm aware of hippotherapy, in which horseback riding is used as a physical and mental therapy for the disabled, and I've heard of dogs, rabbits, cats, etc., being taken into nursing homes and hospitals and the like as 'therapy animals' to comfort and engage people who are sick, elderly, etc. But using a small pony for the latter purpose seems overly complicated, considering the practicalities of taking even small equines inside a building. The website says:

Going Miles for Smiles aims to seek out and discover people of all ages who are losing hope in life, for those who are sad and despondent, or for those who simply have had some bad luck in life and need a lift upwards. GMFS is committed to ensuring that attention is given, entertainment is provided, and above all love is poured forth for those whose dreams are dashed or who have a sad view of the world and their life at hand.

Googling around, I found an article which says that Wilcox traces her inspiration back to a prayer where she decided to do something special to 'give back' if a very sick child she knew recovered. The child recovered, and she later recalled the promise after buying Puddleby.

Puddleby - small chestnut pony
Smooch - beige pot-bellied pig
Cedric - white goose
Adam - grey show pony
Jupiter - chestnut show pony
DieZel - black show horse

Puddleby The Pony website
Going Miles For Smiles
Puddleby on Facebook
Lorraine Ortner-Blake's website
Another review, at the blog Horse Book Reviews

Related Links
American Hippotherapy Association

And video link - the real Puddleby playing with an even smaller equine:

So pretty!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sandro's Battle (1962)

Sandro's Battle
David Scott Daniell, il. Colin Spencer (cover by Charles Geer)
1962, Duell, Sloan And Pearce

Anna was a donkey with a happy disposition. She knew she was beautiful, because Sandro often told her so. Her coat was creamy white with a dark cross along her spine and shoulders. Her little hoofs were gold-colored and her ears were long and furry.

Anna and her adoring young owner Sandro (aka Allesandro Michelangelo Tavistock Brozzi) live in the half-ruined Castello della Fontana in central Italy during World War II. Anna hates thunder, and to her delicate ears the constant, threatening rumble of the advancing war is just another terrifying storm. To Sandro, who is Italian but had an English grandmother, the war is a problem. His composer father is dreamy and impractical, leaving Sandro to take care of the mundane things of life. Which is how he ends up hiding in a confessional during a skirmish between British and German patrols. When the Brits push the Germans out, they stumble across the pair:

"What's up, Miller - found some Jerries?"
"No, sir, but look over there!"
"Great goodness, what ever is it?"

"A tail, sir. Looks like a donkey's."

"I believe you're right, Miller."

"Just the tail, sir, hanging through the curtains."

Sandro graciously invites the friendly Brits to tea the next day, an invitation he soon regrets when he returns home and finds that the Germans have moved in.

The Germans are quickly annoyed by the Brozzi family. Anna's stable is taken over by a machine gun that frightens her badly and prompts Sandro to ask the German officer in charge to please let him move her away from it.

Upset her! A donkey with bad nerves! Really, I cannot understand you or your father. He thinks of nothing but music, and you think of nothing but your donkey! Do neither of you realize we are at war?"

If he hadn't, he soon will; his new friends the English are planning to destroy his home, now a German fortress, through aerial bombardment. Horrified, Sandro begins to scheme to save the castle. And Anna, the little white donkey terrified of explosions, will ultimately save the day.

About the Author
Albert Scott Daniell was born in London and used various names during his creative life. As David Scott Daniell, he wrote many radio plays before turning to novels. He married Elizabeth Mary Thirlby in 1939, and served in Italy during World War II. The blog Bear Alley contains a very long list of his many published works.

The blog Bear Alley, about David Scott Daniell
The website Easy On The Eye, which specializes in Ladybird Books, on Daniell's non-fiction Flight series about travel.