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