Pippa Funnell: Magic Spirit (Tilly's Pony Tails 1)
Publication date: May 2009
I have huge admiration for Pippa Funnell as a rider, and whenever I’ve seen her interviewed, or read anything about her, she always comes across as a the sort of person that if you lent a book to, she’d give it back (could there be higher praise?)
The children’s book market has its fair share of celebrity writers: Madonna, Geri Haliwell, and of course when it comes to pony books, Katie Price. Publishers like to publish what sells: it does, after all, keep them in business, and in our celeb –obsessed culture, a famous name on a book will often guarantee sales, whatever the quality.
So, I approached the first in Pippa Funnell’s Tilly’s Pony Tails series – Magic Spirit - with a bit of trepidation. I liked it. It does, thank the Lord, steer clear of the magical, which is something most pony book authors can’t cope with, and sticks with a thoroughly likeable heroine and good, solid, fact. The book is aimed at the primary school age reader: I’d say 8 and above. There is very little straight down the line pony literature for children that age, so this book does fill a much needed gap.
The heroine, Tilly, doesn’t have a pony, but longs for one. Her nose is stuck permanently in Pony Magazine (which is mentioned so often in the first part of the book I began to suspect product placement), but she has nothing to do with real horses until she calms an abused horse loose in her local town. The horse is taken on by Angela of Silver Shoe Farm, a livery yard, and Tilly is invited along to help. There she learns how to take care of Magic.
All the equine detail is, as you would expect, spot on, and there is a small section of tips at the end of the book. There’s not a vast amount of plot: the main point is that Tilly gets to realise her dream of being with horses, but I think the book is better for not cramming in unbelievable incident: this is the sort of story a child could imagine happening to them.
Pippa Funnell avoids following pony book convention by making her heroine have a pony by the end of the book. Tilly goes and helps at Silver Shoe Farm, but she’s still pony-less by the end of the book, in which she will be just like the vast majority of girls who will read about her. There is one other convention that is followed in spades: the relationship with the horse that no one else has. Tilly has a relationship of quite spectacular specialness with the abused horse Magic Spirit. The book doesn’t though, become a poster ad for Horse Whispering as such; just sensible communication with horses. I’m not sure whether in real life everyone at the yard would treat this ability with the reverence they all seem to: surely, someone, somewhere would be just a tad jealous, but maybe that’s to come in a future story (four titles will be published simultaneously in May.)
As to whether Pippa wrote the books herself: well, not entirely. She used a ghostwriter, though the concept, characters, plot and equine detail are all Pippa. Pippa and her ghost writer have done a good job: I would certainly buy this book for my daughter were she still at that age, and I’d buy it in preference to a lot of what is on the market.