Saturday, 23 August 2014

PBOTD 23rd August: Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Pony Club Trek

Josephine Pullein-Thompson's Woodbury Pony Club series is one that gets better as it goes on. Pony Club Trek (1985) is the last in the series, and the one in which we get to see the Pony Club as real people and not just as objects of all the instruction. The characters in this trilogy are unusual in that no one is particularly redeemed - they carry on being themselves, just riding a bit better and perhaps understanding each other better, all of which is perfectly believable.

The series takes place over a short time frame, with Pony Club Cup taking place in the Easter summer holidays, and Pony Club Trek in the summer holidays. It's not particularly realistic to expect that there will be major changes in character and behaviour in that short a time, and there aren't. I must admit that I did long, when I read the book, for the ghastly Sarah and her even more ghastly mother, Mrs Rooke to well and truly get their come uppance, but they don't: Sarah does though become the victim of her character flaws, not improving at all as she refuses to listen to anyone's opinion but her own. 

I do know that Josephine Pullein-Thompson did base many of her characters on real people. The hideous Pony Club mother that is Mrs Rooke has many equivalents in real life, so I hope that the fictional Mrs Rooke is a composite and has no real life equivalent, and that Sarah doesn't either. She must have become a monster. 

In a book full of richly drawn characters, it's odd that there's no Major Holbrooke equivalent. He was an irascible, confident and knowledgeable voice throughout the Noel and Henry series, who we saw as a person with a life outside the Pony Club. We know as little about David the instructor at the end as we do at the beginning.

If you haven't read the Woodbury series, I can highly recommend it. The books were published in paperback, and then in a collected edition in hardback, and all are easy to find.

The Woodbury Pony Club Series
Pony Club Cup
Pony Club Challenge
Pony Club Trek

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More on Josephine Pullein-Thompson

Friday, 22 August 2014

PBOTD 22nd August: Jo Furminger - Blackbirds' Pony Trek

I first came across Jo Furminger in a Nigel Williams' secondhand bookshop in Cecil Court in London. It's a cut through between St Martin's Lane and the Charing Cross Road, and it's home to some very splendid shops. Sadly, Nigel Williams is no longer among them. He used to have two shops; a specialist children's and one over the road specialising in crime and P G Wodehouse, but he died in 2010 at the age of 48, and his shops closed.

Blackbirds' Pony Trek I remember being remarkably cheap - it was £5.00. I asked the lady who was looking after the shop if they had much else in the pony book line, and being told they didn't, because there wasn't any call for it. I've been into two secondhand bookshops recently who had shelves dedicated to pony fiction, so I'm delighted that there is now a market for it.

The Blackbirds title I bought hasn't shot up in value: the later books in the series can be tricky to find and therefore expensive, but the first few appeared in paperback, which always helps, and they appear to have been stocked by libraries too.

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The Blackbirds Series
A Pony at Blackbird Cottage
Blackbirds Ride a Mystery Trail
Blackbirds’ Pony Trek
Blackbirds and the Gift Pony
Blackbird’s Own Gymkhana
Saddle Up Blackbirds
Blackbirds at the Gallop
Blackbirds and the Midnight Horse
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More on Jo Furminger
Nigel Williams' obituary

Thursday, 21 August 2014

PBOTD 21st August: Pat Smythe - Three Jays on Holiday

Today's book, Three Jays on Holiday, follows on the holiday theme. I've never actually done a statistical analysis of when most pony books were set, but I'd be surprised if the most popular time frame wasn't during the summer holidays. People are free of the distraction of school, and there's the possibility of adventure anywhere in the world, depending on where you send your characters on holiday.

Having said that, pony adventure tends to be firmly based in the characters' home country, as taking your pony with you to Tenerife is a bit of a palaver. However, you might be lucky enough to ride someone else's horses while you're abroad, and that's what happens to Pat Smythe's Three Jays in Three Jays on Holiday. Published by Cassell in 1958, it sees the Jays going to the South of France, where they're supposed to meet Jacky's father and his yacht. They've persuaded Jacky's cousin, Darcy, to take them there in his Bentley. They're all set to meet Pat in the Camargue, where they get to ride the horses. It's an interesting twist to the usual plot, and I wonder if Pat's own globetrotting lifestyle as one of our best show jumpers inspired it. 

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More on Pat Smythe

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

PBOTD 20th August: Judith M Berrisford - Jackie on Pony Island

Jackie on Pony Island is Judith M Berrisford's ninth Jackie book, in which Jackie and Babs help Dave and his family with a beach riding scheme. Judith M Berrisford specialised in holiday adventure: so much so that Jackie and Babs cram far more adventures into the summer holidays than is actually possible with the time span of the series. I think they live in another universe; either one where parallel adventures are possible, or one where the summer holidays start in June and end in September. I think I'd find the second one rather more appealing.

Pony Island contains two more of the author's tropes: trial by water, and a disapproving, older, male character. Jackie and her friend Babs are not good when near the sea. In Jackie’s Pony Camp Summer (1968), she and Misty are swept off a causeway from an island to the shore and have to be rescued; in Jackie on Pony Island (1977), Jackie and Babs are late leaving the island, and have to be rescued from deep water on the causeway.  

Dave finds the girls a major irritation. After he has to save Jackie and Babs from their plunge into the sea off the causeway, he is livid, and condemns them as “the silliest pony-girls I’ve had the misfortune to meet.”  He's not alone in condemning Jackie and Babs: most of the books have a similar character. Poor Jackie and Babs find happiness in the end by gaining the approval of these paternalistic figures: never by striking out on their own. Success is always seen in terms of pleasing male authority figures, which gives the books a helpless, puppyish feel. 

When I read the Jackie books myself as a child, I certainly didn't put any feminist interpretation on what happened. I do remember feeling puzzled that the men and boys were always so very stern, and feeling that it was unfair. It was, and it is. Maybe there's room for someone to write a story where Jackie and Babs realise they don't have to please male authority. They can do things on their own. 

The Jackie Series
Jackie Won a Pony, 1958
Ten Ponies and Jackie, 1959
Jackie’s Pony Patrol, 1961
Jackie and the Pony Trekkers, 1963
Jackie’s Pony Camp Summer, 1968
Jackie and the Pony Boys, 1970
Jackie’s Show Jumping Surprise, 1973
Jackie and the Misfit Pony, 1976
Jackie on Pony Island, 1977
Jackie and the Pony Thieves, 1978
Jackie and the Phantom Ponies, 1979
Jackie and the Moonlight Pony, 1980
Jackie and the Pony Rivals, 1981
Jackie and the Missing Showjumper, 1982
Change Ponies, Jackie! 1983
Jackie’s Steeplechase Adventure, 1984

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More on Judith M Berrisford

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

PBOTD 19th August: Patricia Leitch - Highland Pony Trek

Don't be fooled by the illustration of Highland Pony Trek, which promises a conventional equine holiday adventure. In Patricia Leitch's Highland Pony Trek (1964), Scotland is a Scotland that is threatened – heroine Innes and her family are hanging on to what they love under threat from the nouveau riches who see Scotland simply as a playground. 

The characters in Highland Pony Trek aren't the convention sort who believe that if they work hard everything will work out. There's much more failure than is usual in a pony story. Elder sister Fiona is inclined to give up, and gets bored with the whole trekking idea half way through. 

You can see in this book the germination of the themes Patricia Leitch was to explore at length in the Jinny series: the danger of having too much money, which insulates you from the natural world, and the real difficulty of making your way in a world which view you at best dispassionately.

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Monday, 18 August 2014

PBOTD 18th August: Jane McIlwaine - Pony Trekking Summer

Pony Trekking Summer isn't a book that appears that often. This author is often confused with the American Jane McIlvaine, but they are different people. Pony Trekking Summer was published in 1965, and is the author's only book. It's set in the Spey Valley in the Highlands of Scotland, and is the story of children who help out at the local trekking centre.

The book’s a good read: it’s not the only story of deer poachers confounded by any means, but it’s a good one, crammed with Highland ponies, The characters are well done and refreshingly normal, and the story is believable.

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More on Jane McIlwaine

Sunday, 17 August 2014

PBOTD 17th August: Jo Packer - Gymkhana Trek

I do occasionally keep books just because I like the covers, and that's the case with Jo Packer's Gymkhana Trek (1959). The story itself is not that thrilling: four children go off on a trek, and take part in various gymkhanas as they go. It's a theme that was dealt with rather better by Australian authors Christine Stewart and Julie Yager in their Six Horses and a Caravan (1964).

But Gymkhana Trek does have a lovely cover by Peter Biegel, and that's why I've kept it. It's also why I've kept the same author's No Pony Like Pepper, and I'm ashamed to say I haven't even read that.

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More on Jo Packer