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.

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