Thursday, 20 February 2014

PBOTD: 20th February, Mary Treadgold - The Heron Ride

Mary Treadgold was the editor of children's books at Heinemann during the first part of the WWII. She received pony book after pony book, the majority, she said, equally badly written. (In passing, I would love to know what she rejected.) She thought she could do better herself, and so in the autumn and winter of 1940, as London was pounded by German bombs, she wrote We Couldn't Leave Dinah (1941) in an air raid shelter. (It will feature in a later PBOTD).

Jonathan Cape, 1962, first edition
The Heron Ride (1962) was one of her later books, and was part of a three book series, Return to the Heron (1963) being a sequel, and Journey from the Heron (1981) a prequel.  In The Heron Ride, Sandra and Adam's parents have been killed in an accident, and they now live with their uncle and his family; none of whom either like or want them. It is worst for Sandra, because she lives there all the time. Adam at least is away at school. It's relentless, and it grinds Sandra down, to live in that loveless, noisy, household. For the summer, they have been sent to stay with Miss Vaughan, and life takes on a charmed tint: Miss Vaughan understands them, does not smother, and there are horses, though the vicar's pony, whom Sandra rides, is not exactly a dream of equine bliss.

Children's Book Club, 1962
Although Sandra and Adam have made the classic move out to the country, and it does indeed represent another, and a better life, for them the escape is only temporary in The Heron Ride. Sandra still has to go back to her bleak Bayswater existence, but she goes back with the experience of the summer within her.

Knight, pb, 1967
They have also met one of the most charming figures in pony literature: Onkel Anton, a Hungarian refugee who once worked at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, as understanding as Miss Vaughan.


Knight, pb, 1970s
When Sandra and Adam are contemplating their return from the summer holiday, he says:
”Nobody expects that you should like it,” answered Onkel Anton. “Why should you? You have not much in common with your Uncle Arthur, I think. Why should one like to be with people with whom one does not share? Why should one think that one will fit there? And already look what you have done—you have begun to make your own way out—“

Knight, pg, 1970s
And so she had.

The Heron Ride was first published by Jonathan Cape in 1962, with a cover and illustrations by Victor Ambrus. The Children's Book Club edition has a more striking, and effective cover than their usual efforts. After this, Knight published three paperback editions. I don't know who the cover artist is for either of the pictorial editions. All I know is that it's not Victor Ambrus, because I asked him.

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For more on Mary Treadgold and her books, see her page on my website.

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