Friday, January 27, 2012

The Horse Who Lived Upstairs (1944)


It's been an odd little winter so far.  Unlike the past 3 years, it's been mild (notwithstanding an ice storm on Halloween, that is...) and really only one snowfall in 2012.  And it was 60 today, a morning to startle you awake when you blow out the door late for work and having to walk the dog first and discover - warmth.  No coat, no hat, no gloves, no mittens warmth. 

This time last week it was much different.  The sky that's a lovely if windy blue tonight was white last Friday night, snow clouds obscuring everything.  And we woke on Saturday to a perfect white snowfall that was turning quickly to a freezing drizzle, coating the inch of snow with a hard, slick crust.  The dog did not appreciate this, as she had to break through with every step, and our walk was extremely slow.  I was estatic.  I'm torn, on most weekends, between blissful sloth and the nagging urge I should be GETTING MORE DONE, and inclement weather relieves me of that burden; I couldn't go Out, it was Snowing.  So there. 

I spent most of the weekend hanging at the window, watching the birds at the bird feeder.  Even the cardinals, who have been largely indifferent to the feeders since kicking junior out of the nest (they spent much of the late summer patiently flying from feeder to teen cardinal, stuffing seeds into him) reappeared.  Dog and family both became inured to squawks like "The nuthatches!  The nuthatches!" and "Wrens!  There were wrens!"  The dog is only interested in the feeders as far as I sometimes throw stale bread out there, and the family was only briefly interested when I happily announced that a hawk had just come by (and missed), executing a hairpin turn directly in front of the window.  That hawk and I seem bound on a collision course; he blew by me by a few feet last week, having apparently mistaken a bit of dog fur I was sweeping off the sidewalk for something tasty. 

The Horse Who Lived Upstairs
Phyllis McGinley, il. Helen Stone
1944, J.B. Lippincott Company

There was once a horse named Joey who was discontented.

A city horse, Joey lives in a highrise, drinks from an old bathtub, pulls a vegetable cart and longs for the country life.

"This is no life for a horse," he used to say to the Percheron who lived in the next stall to him.  "We city horses don't know what real living is.  I want to the move to the country and sleep in a red barn with a weathervane on top, and kick up my heels in a green meadow."

But when Joey gets his chance at a rural idyll, he learns that there are unexpected drawbacks, and that he may just be a city horse at heart.

A wonderful pairing of energetic illustration and wistful writing, and that eternal favorite them of where home is.  My beloved old copy appears above, which explains the various blots and scratches.  It's on the fragile side.  I remember reading this book as a child and being utterly captivated by the fact there were horses living in a building.  Neat!  And, of course, the city itself was fascinating.  All those old children's books where New York was the star, all tantalizing. 

Other Books (childrens')
The Horse Who Had His Picture In The Paper - sequel (wheee! I didn't realize this existed)
The Plain Princess
The Most Wonderful Doll In The World

About the Author
A poet who wrote children's stories and articles about gardening, a Pulitzer Prize winner who lived happily in the suburbs, and a feminist whose affection for a traditional persona vexed roughly the same percentage of people as it pleased, McGinley seems to have enjoyed herself thoroughly.  Several sources mention a childhood spent on the move, often in less-than-cushy rural circumstances, and that would seem to illuminate the presentation of a less-than-idyllic country life in this book.

About the Illustrator
I didn't find much about Helen Stone, only a snippet on Google Books from Something About The Author, indicating that she was a friend of McGinley's who brought over some horse drawings one day, as inspiration for a poem. She was, however, an art school graduate who'd studied in Paris, although it seems that this was her first book.

2008 NYT article about McGinley
cover of Time magazine, June 18, 1965
Blog Mrs. Sandusky Reads! with post about Helen Stone (Mrs. Sandusky also has posts on pony book author Lavinia R. Davis (both non-horsey, one for Roger And The Fox); a 12-year-old Caldecott winner for The Good-Luck Horse
Ask Art Helen Stone
The Children's Literature Research Collection on Helen Stone

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lone Hunter’s Gray Pony (1956)

Lone Hunter’s Gray Pony
Donald Worcester, il. Paige Pauley
1956, Oxford University Press
1985, A Sundance Book, Texas Christian University Press (shown)

The gray pony snorted once more, then relaxed.  His head had been held high; now it was lowered and stretched out toward Lone Hunter, so that the boy was able to stroke the broad forehead.  In a few minutes the pony was rubbing his soft, black nose against the boy’s chest while Lone Hunter scratched his black-tipped ears.

Oglala Sioux warrior Red Eagle has returned triumphant from a raiding party on the Pawnee with a mount for his son, Lone Hunter, who has been yearning to join the buffalo hunters.  Lone Hunter immediately begins training his beautiful gray pony to the tricks of being a warrior’s horse – galloping alongside running prey and leaping away to safety the moment he hears an arrow twang – even as he practices the skills of a hunter and warrior.   His great bond with Gray Pony proves to be an advantage when Lone Hunter falls in front of buffalo – and the pony doesn’t bolt to safety but waits for him. 

By the beginning of the fall buffalo hunt, boy and pony are ready and waiting for permission from Red Eagle.  Only one thing worries Lone Hunter; in a society where horse theft is a mark of great bravery and honor, the tribes always bring their valuable horses into the camp each night for safety.  Only the old, slow horses ridden by children and women are left outside.  Lone Hunter has been leaving Gray Pony outside the camp rather than face mockery or question – why should a boy’s pony be tended carefully? 

When the pony is stolen by Kiowas, Lone Hunter risks death, entering the hostile lands of that tribe to find and steal back Gray Pony.

A short, simply and well-written book which easily and effectively blends an adventure story with interesting background on the Ogala Sioux, particularly their remarkable horsemanship:

Lone Hunter took the heavy bow in his left hand.  It was beautifully made, ideal for use on horseback, and any warrior would be glad to have one as good.  He straightened his left arm and, by straining hard, pulled the sinew bowstring nearly to his ear with his right hand.

"It is yours, my son,” said Red Eagle.  “I did not know your arms were so strong.  But you must be able to draw it many times without tiring, while riding at full speed across rough ground, before you talk of hunting the buffalo.”

Lone Hunter And The Cheyennes
Lone Hunter’s First Buffalo Hunt
Lone Hunter And The Wild Horses

Texas Tech University, Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library
Texas A&M University Press Consortium
Portrait of Al Zirr at Fine Art America
Maud W. Makemson's bio at Vassar

Other edition
1961 original cover at Amazon 

About the Author
(1915- )
Donald Emmett Worcester was born in Arizona but raised largely on a farm in southern California, at the edge of the Mojave Desert.  His parents were divorced; his father wandered in and out of his children's lives, while their mother struggled as a rare female astronomist trying to make it in academia (see thoroughly interesting link above).  After serving in the Navy, was a history professor at the University of Florida and Texas Christian University.  He was president of the Western Writers of America (1973-1974).   The dust jacket of the 1985 edition says he's retired and enjoying writing and raising Arabian horses, and owns Al Zirr, a son of Cass Ole, the black Arabian who starred in the film version of The Black Stallion.

Books (nonfiction)
The Apaches: Eagles Of The Southwest
Pioneer Trails West
Brazil: From Colony To World Power
Forked Tongues And Broken Treaties
Cowboy With A Camera: Erwin E. Smith, Cowboy Photographer
The Texas Longhorn: Relic Of The Past, Asset For The Future
The Three Worlds Of Latin America
The Chisholm Trail
The Texas Cowboy
Kit Carson: Mountain Scout
John Paul Jones: Soldier Of The Sea
The Weapons Of American Indians
Early History of The Navaho Indians
The Spanish Mustang

Books (fiction)
War Pony
Brazos Scout
Man On Two Ponies
Gone To Texas
Western Horse Tales

Other writing
Apparently did a Spanish translation of Lois Lenski’s Cowboy Small.
A Visit From Father and Other Tales Of The Mojave (memoir)

About the Artist
I was unable to find anything about Paige Pauley, but I had to mention the illustrations, which enhance the book.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Black Beauty at Chick-Fil-A

Black Beauty
Chick-Fil-A edition
Anna Sewell, il. Jose Miralles
Abridged by Margo Lundell
2007, Frederic Thomas Inc.

The last post was about a horsey book which strove to educate children about sexual abuse.  This one is about a slim booklet which is arguably even more didactic, although in all fairness it heavily abridged a book which was conceived as an educational tool, the classic Black Beauty

Stories like Black Beauty are fun to read and think about, but they can also teach us about the world and ourselves.  Black Beauty is a great story to teach us about the word respect.  Respect means that we treat others in a way that we would like to be treated.  You can learn more about respect by trying to understand what Black Beauty may be thinking or feeling, and how he views the world.

Lundell, who adapted Sewell's work for this little version, does a nice job considering the limitations and the intended audience.   

I was very ill.  I had a bad inflammation of the lungs and could not breathe without pain.  John nursed me day and night.  The master often came to see me, too.  "My poor Beauty," he said during one visit.  "You saved your mistresses's life, Beauty, you did."

I will admit, I really included this review, if it can be called a review, only because I like the illustrations, by comic book artist Miralles, but I was unable to find much about him online, at least in the time frame I alloted and given my decision in high school to take French instead of Spanish (a decision I soon regretted, as the French teacher was an evil hag and the Spanish teacher was a likeable sort of guy).  So I came up blank on a post re: Mr. Miralles's artwork.  It is impressive, however; horses are not easy to draw and his are quite realistic.

Happily, as has happened before, my research for the post lead me on to more topics.  The fast-food chain Chick-Fil-A distributed these books with its kids meals, a nice habit it seems to be continuing now with Little Golden Books.  The company was founded by a Southern Baptist who isn't shy about his religious faith, and their charitable work with children's causes is counter-balanced by a support for anti-gay causes.  So there's some positive/negative issues there. 

More interesting to me is the discovery that MacDonald's, the ultimate fast-food joint, has now glommed onto giving away books with Happy Meals instead of toys.  At least, in the UK.  The french fry giant is collaborating with HarperCollins UK to give away 9 million books from War Horse author Michael Morpurgo.

And now I want a chicken sandwich.  And a large fries.  Damnit.

FredericThomas Inc.             


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Promise Not To Tell (1985)

Promise Not To Tell
Carolyn Polese, il. Jennifer Barrett
1985, Human Sciences Press

Today she was going to ride a real horse again.  And today, if she got to the stables early enough to help saddle up, Walt said he’d give her an extra, secret lesson on Charlotte.  Walt said that way Meagan would be sure to pass the Trail Trials on Friday.

I disapprove of using fiction as a thinly veiled therapeutic tool.  However, this one is well written so although it was clearly intended only as a way to educate children about sexual abuse – it’s very brief, the entire plot is the abuse and it’s obviously not a general read  - it is hard to dismiss it too summarily.

Under the pines and spruce, the campground was cool, but Meagan could tell, by the spicy smell in the air, that it would be hot as soon as she was out in the open.

One reason I’m including it here is that it’s the only horse book I’ve ever found which deals with sexual abuse at the barn.  That’s always struck me as odd, considering that the horse hobby is famously popular with childrenHorse books tend to present “the barn” as a haven.  That’s very nice and often very true, but the prejudice that barn=good must be a bit hard on anyone who experiences something different there.  

One line devastatingly sums up the cunning of a child molester, and the innocence of the victim:

The nicest thing about Walt, Meagan thought, was that he was always glad to see her.

Author’s website (her name is now Carolyn Lehman)
Illustrator’s website (she's now Jennifer O’Connell)
The Christopher Awards

About the author, etc.
The book won an award from The Christophers, a Catholic-founded group which recognizes positive effort. 

An organization founded in 1945 by a Maryknoll priest, The Christophers mission statement reads in part:

The mission of The Christophers is to encourage people of all ages, and from all walks of life, to use their God-given talents to make a positive difference in the world. The mission is best expressed in The Christophers’ motto: “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Girl Called Bob & A Horse Called Yoki (1982)

A Girl Called Bob & A Horse Called Yoki
Barbara Campbell
1982, The Dial Press

Next I stop at Yoki’s grocery two stores down from Jenkins’s Bake Shop. Yoki’s is named after a horse, and that horse is a friend of mine. He pulls the milk-delivery wagon every morning, and after he finishes, he lives out back of the store in a broken-down woodshed.

Eight-year-old Barbara Ann “Bob” lives in St. Louis during the Second World War. Her father is in the Pacific and her mother is working long hours, but her harsh grandmother, Sweetmama, is living with them. Sweetmama is a hard woman to please, and when her fear of cats provokes her to hurt Bob’s cat Sauce, Bob hates her. But Bob adores a neighbor’s horse:

He just stands there and blows through his lips. I’m crazy about this horse. He doesn’t remind me of any horse in the movies. He doesn’t clippity, cloppity fast and his tail doesn’t swish. He’s very slow, with big hooves that have hair hanging over them. He’s got a dip in his back and a little stubby tail. But he’s got a beautiful face.

When Yoki’s owner falls ill, his nephew arrives to take charge of the grocery and quickly decides to send the old horse off to be slaughtered.

“It’s not fair that Yoki is going to be killed for glue,” I say. “Every time I turn around, somebody being killed. They’re killing people in the war and that’s all you hear on the radio, and now they’re killing Yoki for no reason except they don’t want him anymore.”

Bob, already dealing with a difficult grandmother, fear for her father’s safety, and worry over her upcoming baptism, focuses on saving her friend from the glue factory.

An unusual book.  For one thing, there aren't too many African-American heroines in horsey lit.  For another, even for a period piece it's unusual that Bob's troubles with her sometimes cruel grandmother are resolved realistically, not dramatically.  Finally, despite a generally high quality of writing, the author doesn't seem to have written other books.  She appears to have been a reporter, and this book seems autobiographical, as she grew up in Saint Louis.

Other editions:
1986 Harper Trophy paperback with the title Taking Care Of Yoki. Shown below.  Cover art by Sheila Hamanaka.

About the author
A journalist who grew up in Saint Louis and ended up in New York City.  Extremely elusive online.