Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Mystery Of Plum Park Pony (1980)

The Mystery of Plum Park Pony
Lynn Hall, il. Alan Daniel
1980, Garrard Publishing Company

It was heaven, Susan thought, to ride once more.  The ponies trotted happily down the gravel roads and paths of the park.  They seemed to enjoy the riding as much as Susan and Kent did.

Susan and Kent live across the street from Plum Park, a small amusement park.  In addition to the Tilt-O-Whirl and the roller coaster, the park attractions include a pony ride.  On this spring day, Susan and her pal have followed up on the pony rider operator's promise they can exercise the ponies before opening day.  Susan is puzzled that there's an extra pony in the herd, and the kids soon discover that the newcomer is a runaway from a nearby show barn.  By the time they're figured this out, the runaway has vanished, and the tracks lead to the Tunnel of Terror.

There was no light anywhere.  Susan fell over an electric cable on the ground.  Kent ran into a corner of a scary scene.
"I don't know about you," Kent said, "but I'm lost."
Suddenly there was warmth and movement beside them.  Susan could hardly see the outline of the pony.  She she knew the pony was standing very still.
"I think she's caught on the track," Susan said.

A short tale for beginning readers, with very 1970's illustrations. 

Ponymadbooklovers on Lynn Hall
Jane Badger on Lynn Hall

Other editions
It was reprinted in paperback as The Mystery of the Phantom Pony by Random House, il. Marie DeJohn, cover by Ruth Sanderson.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Word Of Honor (1964)

Word Of Honor: A Story About Thoroughbreds
Ruth Adams Knight and Claud Garner
1964, Ariel Books; Farrar, Strauss and Company

Until now he had taken the family's genteel poverty pretty much for granted.  Kentucky had many run-down farms.  But he had been made suddenly aware that his life, which had evolved naturally from the land he lived on, from being a Matten of Louisville, was a boy's life no longer.

Mimms Matten Parker, or Rusty, is 18 and looking forward to the summer and then his first year at college when his father dies suddenly. Lee Parker wasn't much of a worker, content to let their Kentucky bluegrass farm fall into disrepair, along with his own financial fortunes.   His mother, Hope, has always been the stronger parent, with a firm belief in the integrity of her family, the Mattens.  Her stepson, Howard, is a sulky, rebellious double for his dad, always in search of a quick buck and with no family loyalty.  He splits before the body is cold, taking the family car and leaving the Mattens to search for a way to keep their land.

Luck is with them.  Rusty happens across a drifter, a Mexican with a face disfigured by smallpox but a warm smile and a deep understanding of farming.  With his help, the family begins to think they might succeed.  But some neighbors, including the brisk manager of a nearby Thoroughbred farm who's got his eye on Hope, think that Arturo Cardenas de la Garza is suspicious. 

While the horse sequences have a rote, distant quality, this book excels at making you feel the challenge of rehabilitating a neglected farm and has a realism about the setbacks faced by the Mattens.  Less likeable but still realistic are Rusty's troubled romance with pretty, shallow Lita and his struggle to decide whether he entirely trusts Arturo, who everyone called Padre.  Rusty's essential problem is that even if he distrusts Padre, what can he really do about it?  Just a few months after the drifter moved in, the family is dependent on him for help and advice.  And Rusty has a bigger dream than just hanging on.  As he says late in the book:

"A year ago I had a dream about raising Thoroughbreds on this old farm, and not one chance to have it come true.  Now there he is!  Our family's past and present is in him, and he's a pledge to our future."

This plot has its own complications.  Saving a savagely injured young racehorse and turning her into a broodmare - a plot designed to give the second half of the book the hope that her foal will turn the Matten fortunes - rings false.  The injury is so dire, it seems unlikely that making the horse carry foals would be plausible or humane.

Horses frequently have ridiculous names, but Knight has a positive talent for making you cringe - Purple Sage, Hot Shot, Black Star.  And worst of all, Miss Flighty Fleet.

Ruth Adams Knight
While she didn't write any other equine books, she did write quite a few dog books.  Born in Ohio, she got her foot in the door with journalism during WWI, moved to New York in the 1920s and became an early writer and show runner for radio soap operas.  She was married three times and had two children.

Dog books
Halfway To Heaven: The Story of the Saint Bernard* (1952)
A Friend In The Dark: The Story of A Seeing Eye Dog (1937) il. Morgan Dennis
Luck Of The Irish (1951)
A War Dog (1944)
Brave Companions (1948)
Valiant Comrades (1942)

excerpt in Dog Spelled Backwards by Mordeccai Siegal

Other Books - Nonfiction
Opera Calvalcade: The Story of the Metropolitan (1938)
Sky High In Bolivia (1942)
Stand By For The Ladies: The Distaff Side of Radio (1939)
Lady Editors: Careers for Women in Publishing (1941)

Other Books
Case Histories (1944) (with Jean Hersholt)
Dr. Christian's Office (based on the radio program Dr. Christian) (1946)
First The Lightning (1955)
The Treasured One: The Story of Rudiovravan Princess of Siam
It Might Be You
Search For The Galleon's Gold! (1956)
Fare By My Side (1948)*
Queen Of Roses (1966)
Certain Harvest (1960)
Day After Tomorrow (1952)
The Land Beyond (1934)
Women Must Weep (1953)
Top Of The Mountain (1953)

*also in the February 1948 McCall's magazine

Friday, November 23, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Driving home from work in early November, I was electrified to see a flock of wild turkeys milling in the front yard of a house in my small town.  Enchanted, I circled the block and took photos.  They'd noticed both the car and the small child emerging from the front door of the house, and began streaming out of the yard.  They ran around my idling car, over the sidewalk opposite and vanished around the corner of the nearest house.  Bemused, I drove on, careful to avoid the trick-or-treaters running through the streets.  Weird year.

Thanksgiving gratitude for a four-day weekend, a hairy dog, and the ability of wildlife to show up in unexpected places.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wendy Wanted A Pony (1951)

Wendy Wanted A Pony
Eleanor Frances Brown, il. Pers Crowell
1951, Julian Messner, Inc.

 If only there were some way to wave a magic wand and transport the whole Farwell family from the dirty, smoke-filled city to quiet green fields, peaceful living and clean fresh air for mother!

10-year-old Wendy Farwell longs to leave Chicago and live on a farm, where her father can farm, her mother (who suffers from some lung ailment) can get strong and she can have a horse.  She's prime horse girl material; a random encounter with a loose cow on a city street leads to a friendship with the local mounted police and a spotted Shetland named Polka Dot. 

"Getting you a pony was not our main reason for going," he called reprovingly.  "Our main reason still stands.  We need farm life for your mother's sake."

The Farwell family find it difficult to finance their move, though.  Hopes rise and fall, opportunities come and then fall through, and through the misadventures and uncertainty, Wendy clings to her hopes of a pony.  The family finally moves west, to join Jim's brother in Oregon, but their plans of a farm fall through and they end up back in apartments.  Along the way, she falls in love with her cousin's pony, White Sox, and acquires a beautiful dog -

Although very much like a purebred collie, she was much smaller and had a slightly different type of muzzle.  Her artistocratic head, with alert, cocked ears falling forward at the tips, held deep-set dark eyes with a look of unusual sweetness and intelligence.

who nearly makes up for the lack of equine opportunity.  And she befriends a cranky rich man. 

Wait.  A cranky rich man?  You know that's a good sign. 

This is a solid older children's book.  The plot has a slow but satisfying pace and a realistically difficult path to sucess for the heroes.  It also features the classis sickly mother, morally overbearing father, sulky male child who must be understood and, late in the game, a slightly creepy level of guilt from the heroine when she bends some rules to get her pony.

There isn't much in the way of horse scenes, oddly.  It's a book more about longing for a horse than about actually owning/riding/fussing over one.

Other books by Author
A Horse For Peter
The Colt From Horse Heaven Hills
Mountain Palomino
Golden Lady: The Story of an American Show Horse

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Proudest Horse On The Prairie (1971)


The Proudest Horse On The Prairie
Beatrice S. Smith, il. Laurel Horvat
1971, Lerner Publications Company

Every day it is like meeting a locomotive head on," Fred complained.

A bay colt born on a South Dakota ranch grows into the headstrong, unbreakable Tipperary.  Sold from owner to owner, experiencing bad and good people, he eventually becomes a superlative bucking horse in the rodeos.

A short fictionalized version of a real horse and rodeo star, this book features basic but attractive illustrations and a limited, somewhat sentimental text.  The bio in the back of the book says this was the author's first published book. 

The author
Beatrice S. Smith wrote a variety of children's fiction and nonfiction.  A teacher, she lived in Middleton, Wisconsin, and owned a farm with her husband and children.

The illustrator
Laurel Horvat worked for Hallmark and for the Augsburg Publishing House before becoming a freelancer.  She lived in Providence, Rhode Island, and rode horses.

Tipperary's background
The real horse was possibly a Thoroughbred, who began to attract attention at South Dakota auctions where European buyers were shopping for cavalry mounts*. 

The only one to successfully ride the horse was Hollywood stuntman Yakima Canutt, and he did it twice.  If you've never watched the 1939 film Stagecoach, in which Canutt did amazing stunts as a stand-in for fledgling star John Wayne, then go watch it now.  Wayne wasn't a rider and famously enters his film career walking, but it's an excellent film.  And you can watch if free on YouTube.

*I was taken aback by this, thinking that South Dakota to Europe seems a heck of a long way to ship a horse back in 1914, but according to Wikipedia, equines were in short supply and nearly 1 million were shipped to Europe between 1914 and 1918. It was expensive and dangerous; horses took up far more space than men or supplies, and perished when the ships were shelled en route. 

Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame
National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum (scroll to bottom of page)
Wikipedia - Horse in WWI