Sunday, December 27, 2015

Robin Kane: The Mystery of the Blue Pelican (1966)

Robin Kane: The Mystery of the Blue Pelican
Eileen Hill, il. Sylvia Haggander
1966, A Whitman Book, Western Publishing Co.

Robin Kane, 13, lives in Pacific Point, California with her parents, 14-year-old brother Kevin and younger sister Amy.  Best friend Melinda Hunter’s father Maxfield is a film and TV producer who’s bringing his latest project Changeling to town and casting the Kane kids and his own stable of palomino horses – including Robin’s beloved Nugget – as extras.  Most excitingly, the star of Changeling is teen sensation Moira Rafferty, and she’s going to visit the Kane household!

This is the first book of the series, and at best, it’s just too simple to be an enjoyable read for an adult. And there are a few too many mid-century nightmares, from Mexican mamacitas to Irishmen lilting charmingly about leprechauns. I’m going to be lazy here and refer you to another website for a nice summation of the book. I quit after the third chapter. In my defense, I was reading it for this blog and Robin’s reaction to hearing her horse had vanished is to be sad, finish dinner and go to bed for some bad dreams about her lost horse.  Not very horse-book-heroine, Robin.  Her horse, Nugget, doesn’t actually appear until near the end, so overall not really a great example of a pony/horse book.

More complete review at Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

The Mystery of the Blue Pelican
The Mystery of the Phantom
The Mystery of Glengary Castle
The Candle Shop Mystery
Mystery in the Clouds
The Monster of Wolf Point

Friday, December 25, 2015

Flying Roundup (1957)

Flying Roundup
Genevieve Torrey Eames, il. Lorence F. Bjorklund
1957, Julian Messner, Inc.

The noise grew louder and around the base of the mountain came a small band of horses, manes and tails flying and a cloud of dust swirling about them, kicked up by their galloping hoofs.  Johnny’s heart raced at the sight.  The leaders started into the valley, halted and swerved away again.  Then, above the hoofbeats, came the roar of a motor and a small yellow plane swung into sight, following the horses and flying so low it seemed almost to skim the brush and willows along the stream.  As the horses hesitated it circled out to head them off and then roared up behind them, sending them in a mad stampede up the valley.

Johnny Shaw is dozing, postponing the end of a camping trip, when he sees a roundup of wild horses, dominated by an airplane.  The scene is brutal – the terrified herd runs down and crushes a foal, and the cowboys frankly tell Johnny that the wild horses being driven into a truck are destined for a cannery – but Johnny’s torn.  The pilot is the father of his two best friends, Dan and Linda Cameron.  Vern is newly home from Korea, and trying to use his Air Force skills to tide over his new ranch.  Johnny recognizes the family’s genuine need, but when he spots an overlooked band of wild horses, he heads into the hills to find a way to get them moving before anyone else spots them.

There are two kinds of children’s books – those where the villains are the villains, and those where the villains are really just people you don’t know well enough.  This is the latter.  Johnny comes to understand where Vern’s coming from, and how the money from his flying roundups is intended for good, and somehow the early scene with the agonized foal is overwritten.  It’s not very satisfying. 

About the Author

Other books by Eames (horse)
Pat Rides The Trail (1946) il. Dan Noonan
A Horse To Remember (1947) il. Paul Brown
The Good Luck Colt (1953) il. Paul Brown
Ghost Town Cowboy (1957) il. Paul Brown

Other books by Eames (dog)
Handy of the Triple S (1949) il. Paul Brown

Short Stories
Jarvis Discovers Gold" appears in the anthology Horses, Horses, Horses: Palominos And Pintos, Polo Ponies And Plow Horses, Morgans And Mustangs edited by Phyllis Fenner
Someday I’ll Race Him in Young Wings – the Magazine of the Boys’ and Girls’ Club

Monday, September 7, 2015

Last Hurdle (1953_

Last Hurdle
F.K. Brown, il. Peter Spier
1953, Thomas Crowell (not shown)

With a sigh, she tipped her head back and stared up at the soaring board sides of the barn. Sunlight slid down through the open half of the stable door to bathe the big box stalls with light. In her imagination, she saw heads moving among the shadows behind the barred upper halves of the stalls, and she could almost hear the soft fluttering of nostrils, the stamp of hoofs.

Katherine Nelson’s family has moved to a falling-down farm, and although she has never been on or near a horse, she is determined to acquire one. She’s already stalking the local horse owners, showing up when a nearby farmer is taking his team in for the day and beguiling a ride:

Half of her mind kept singing “This is the first time I’ve ever been on a horse! I’m riding a horse – a horse!” while the other half kept trying to remember all the things she had read in her horse books: how to grip with the knees, how to hold the reins in both hands, how to keep the ankles straight, heels down. But she was far too excited to think very clearly, so she just sat there, smiling happily to herself and riding.

Kathy and obliging little brother Ned join finances to liberate an abused, neglected horse from a careless owner, with the encouragement of hired man Willie.  Their parents, initially amused at their game, realize suddenly that the kids aren’t just being imaginative, they actually did manage to buy a horse.

“You what?” her mother shrieked, rising from her chair and almost tipping it over in her haste. “You did what? What on earth are you talking about?”

Kathy names the black horse with a white face Baldy, and nurses him back to health.  And naturally, her thoughts turn to further achievement.  Now that Baldy’s healthy again, she begins to jump him and plots to enter him in a local show.  The show, held at a country club over the Memorial Day weekend, is very obviously over Kathy’s head – just figuring out what classes to enter him in is difficult, and at every step, Kathy has doubts.

She imagined herself falling off at the first jump; she heard the spatter of laughter from the stands and the echo of a derisive bugle. Only too clearly, she saw Baldy plowing through the rails, sending splintered wood flying in all directions.

And even before the show starts, Kathy runs into more problems.  There is, of course, a happy ending with a victorious Kathy already starting to dream of more horses.
Brisk pace, nice style and funny little drawings.  Well worth a read.

Other editions
1953 Crowell
1970 Apollo paperback
1988 Linnet Books

About the Author
Frieda Kenyon Brown (1920-2011)
Brown was born in Philadelphia to a father named, wonderfully, Benjamin Franklin II (whose son was named Benjamin Franklin III); her unusual middle name was her mother’s maiden name.  Raised on an apple farm, she loved farm life.  She attended Bryn Mawr College and joined the American Red Cross during World War II. She was awarded the Medal of Freedom for her work in field hospitals in France and Germany with the 3rd Army, and married Lt. William Douglas Brown in 1945.  His military career kept them on the move, but after he retired, they followed her father to North Carolina, where Brown finally got a farm of her own in Pisgah Forest. She had 2 children.  

As a writer, she mostly collaborated on nonfiction with Claude Frazier Albee, as well as writing under the pseudonym F.K. Franklin. This appears to be her sole horsey book.

The 2012 film version of the popular 2008 young adult novel The Hunger Games was filmed in the Pisgah National Forest. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

RIP Patricia Leitch

Having wandered over to the Books, Mud and Compost blog, I discovered the prolific pony book author Patricia Leitch died on July 28. 

I read For Love of a Horse for the first time while hiding behind an armchair during a violent thunderstorm with my Beardie wrapped around my legs. It is one of those vivid, perfect memories from childhood that feels as if I could wake up there again, if I tried hard enough. The storm-charged air, the cave-like security behind the chair, the shaggy dog's comforting weight, and the transporting book.  I still have that book.

I've read only a few of Leitch's many books, but they made a deep impression.  Her characters, human and equine, were outstanding.  Jinny - humorless, driven, passionate Jinny, tearing her heart out over the abused mare she names Shantih at the grim suggestion of her beloved, slightly frightening Ken. The placidly stubborn Highlands. The wild mare. The storm-ravaged pottery, the haunting wall mural, the dream-like state in which she paints that contest entry and then wanders downstairs for a bit of a snack.  The dog Kelly. The wet ride across confusing moors to track down the library van.

Leitch had her flaws - if she didn't particularly appreciate a personality, she didn't much bother with the character.  Jinny's sister and mother were virtually flat - but her writing had great scope and style.  It's rare enough to get that sort of enormous energy poured into a child's book, let alone a child's book centered on horses.  Leitch was a classic.

NZ Ponywriter
Daily Record

Jane Badger Books
Jinny at Finmory Facebook
Catnip Books

Monday, July 20, 2015

Falling For Eli (2012)

And another nonfiction, adult choice. 

Falling For Eli: How I Lost Heart, Then Gained Hope Through The Love Of A Singular Horse
Nancy Shulins
2012, Da Capo Press

This isn’t the party I pictured all the years I secretly dreamed of this day, little fantasies that helped me endure every painful procedure that got me to where I am now. Someday, I’d tell myself, while being biopsied, inseminated, or injected with dye, this part will be over, and my friends and I will celebrate over mini-cupcakes in a room filled with spray roses and alphabet blocks… Like the pictures that change when you tilt the card they’ve been printed on, I have only to shift my viewing angle ever so slightly for the diaper paul to morph into a feed bucket, the changing pad into a saddle pad. And with that, my baby shower reverts to a “bridle” shower.

After years spent trying to overcome infertility, Nancy Shulins and her husband are done with the quest for a baby.  As the journalist tries to understand what comes next, a friend with a horse brings back memories of childhood riding lessons.  Before she knows it, she’s in thrall to a dressage trainer. And the new interest is a lifesaver when her sister, whose children Shulins adores, moves far away.
The friend’s horse dies, cruelly, of laminitis.  Shulins, grieving, is introduced to a Thoroughbred for sale, and finds herself a horse owner.

That owning a horse in suburban Connecticut on the eve of the new millennium is a privilege seems obvious enough on a crisp autumn morning or a balmy spring afternoon; less so on a frigid February morning when drinking water freezes in buckets and sheets of ice cover the ground.
I can’t wait.

Her new horse, Eli, enchants her.  Less enchanting are her relationships with a series of instructors, most of them abusive and nasty.  Shulins seems extremely tolerant of hard-ass instruction; at one point she seeks out a self-styled ‘marine’ fitness instructor to get her in better shape for riding.  Between this screaming marine and her two dressage instructors, she takes a lot of abuse in pursuit of riding well.  She’s a successful journalist, and it’s awkward to criticize her choices, but it’s painful to read the passages about her trainers. 

But of course, the book is about the horse.  And she adores Eli, whose feet betray him, and whose God-given talent as a horse to find new and exciting ways to hurt himself is always willing to take up the slack when the hooves have been temporarily fixed.  Over the years, she nurses him back to health repeatedly, at different barns and with different instructors, riding and tending barn in the depths of winter.  And when EPM strikes him, she is crushed

I forgot to rehearse losing my horse. I’d taken for granted that he’d be here for me, mitigating my childlessness and equalizing my grief; leading me out of my dark, quiet house and into the bright light of day. 

And aggressively effective, ruthlessly direct. She tracks down the world’s authorities on EPM and finds an experimental drug that does, in fact, cure Eli.

A wonderful, funny book.    She nails a host of horsey topics, including:

barn life:
“Think of this place [barn] as a big junior high… Jessie’s the bitchy head cheerleader.”
“token male boarders”

the horrors of animal husbandry:
I try hiding his pills in sweet feed… I hollow out a Granny Smith apple and stuff it with pills…I try hiding pills in doughnuts. Oatmeal cookies. Apple Jacks. Straight molasses. Maple syrup. Peppermints. Mashed bananas. Finally, in desperation I buy a coffee grinder and pulverize the pills into a powder. I then stir it into applesauce and plunge the whole mucky mess down his thrown.  Homemade applesauce at first, then store-bought when he makes it clear that as far as his taste buds are concerned, my grandmother’s recipe has nothing on Mott’s.

the inevitability of injury
The first buck comes out of nowhere, pitching me forward onto his neck; the second – a real beauty, all four feet off the ground – launches me into the air. I’m just thinking how odd it feels to be suddenly soaring through nothingness like an ejected fighter pilot when I hit the dirt hard on my left side.

Horses in general
Damn near everything, to a Thoroughbred, is unexpected.

The winter barn
… extreme cold is what separates the horse owner from the horse lover.

Shulins even managed to keep me reading despite a NJ joke.  She grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, yearning to leave, then went away to college:  

At Northwestern University in Boston everyone seemed to have come from New Jersey, a foreign land I’d grown up making fun of. From the Brahmins of Bergen County to the Panchamas of Patterson, theirs was a caste system far more refined than any I’d known in Cow Hampshire.

And I adored her echo of O. Henry, whose short stories frequently focused on New York and her satellites in loving/mocking terms:

…. Hoboken, that perennial punch line on the Hudson…