Friday, February 22, 2013

Conquista! (1978)

Clyde Robert Bulla and Michael Syson, il. Ronald Himler
1978, Thomas Y. Crowell

In South America, Pizarro plundered the Incas and sent their gold to Spain.  Other Spaniards traveled far into North America in search of treasure.  One was Coronado.  Much is known of his expedition, but there is much that can never be known.  What follows is not a historical account.  It tells what might have happened.

A very short (35-page) and simple book revolving around the early days of the horse in North America.  In this imagining, a lost horse from Coronado’s 1540 expedition comes across a Native American boy who’s alone on the plains, waiting for a vision that will reveal his true name.  When boy meets horse, he’s astonished, terrified – and quickly obsessed with riding him. 

The desert was flying past him – the earth, the rocks, the growing things.  Once this land had made him feel small, but no longer. 

Bulla wrote a lot of books, and many were horsey.  I’ve come across many and remember a few from childhood.  They’re quick, smart, and capably written, but only one is truly memorable.  Dexter, a haunting story of a pony left to die when a troubled family skips town suddenly, has the depth and complexity that most of Bulla’s work lacks.  Since most of his books are written for younger children, this is not exactly a scathing criticism, I admit, but I think some of his books seem to have been churned out rather perfunctorily.

The book was inspired by a 1971 short film by Michael Syson, which is apparently one of those films that both lingered in viewer’s memories and was thereafter extremely difficult to track down.  Reportedly a British production, it was shot in Spain in 1970 and shown in different versions and lengths in various countries at various times. 

Bulla was born in Missouri and seems to have be determined to be a writer from an early age.  He persisted until finally establishing himself with children’s books, and moved to Los Angeles in the 1940s.  An extremely prolific writer, he produced about a book a year throughout his life.

Other books (equine)
Riding The Pony Express
Star Of Wild Horse Canyon
A Ranch For Danny
Three Dollar Mule
The Wild Arabian
The Donkey Cart
Surprise For A Cowboy
Old Charlie

Born and raised in Ohio, Himler has illustrated many children’s books.

Other horse books
The Best Horse Ever by Alice DeLaCroix (picture book)
Someday Rider by Ann Herbert Scott  (picture book)
A Grass Green Gallop by Patricia Hubbell (poetry collection for children)


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