Tuesday, 18 March 2014

PBOTD: 18th March, William Corbin - Horse in the House

If you've been following the PBOTD, you'll know many of my early pony book experiences were courtesy of our local library. Every book in my early library experience was a hardback, but then paperbacks began to be introduced. Except they'd been converted: hard covers had been bonded to the inside of the covers, and shiny plastic film applied over the whole lot. I remember Horse in the House being my first experience of the form, and how odd it looked. Paperbacks treated like that always look oddly apologetic: they seem to know they've been forced out of their usual form.

They could have bound Horse in the House in woven straw and I wouldn't have cared. I loved that book, and I have only to see the cover to be transported back to the place in the library where it lived. I could draw you a map.

Methuen first UK edition, 1966
When I was putting together the outline for my book, Heroines on Horseback, there was some dispute about whether I should include non-British books in what was supposed to be a book about the pony book in British children's literature. I argued that you couldn't have been a ponymad child in the 1960s and 1970s and not have devoured the Silver Brumbies and Black Stallions. I didn't care if there were no Pony Club children; no gymkhanas and no tidy Home Counties paddocks. What I wanted was horse, and I didn't care in what form that came. (If you've read my book, you'll know that I must have argued my case reasonably persuasively, because wild horses have a chapter of their own).

Puffin paperback, 1969
Horse in the House couldn't be shoehorned into the book, being American but not being about a wild horse, and so I get the opportunity to spread myself here.

Heroine Melanie Webb's summer activity, as published in the school newsletter is "to teach my horse to live in the house so he can civilise my sisters." Her horse is called Orbit, and he came along when the young Melanie forgot to shut the barn door, and the road gate, and Gigi, her Shetland gets out on to the road and has to be shot. It's a stark and dramatic beginning, but it's brilliantly done. Melanie's father says: "We all make mistakes, bad ones. If we're smart, though, we learn from them all. You're smart, Mellie-girl."

He buys Orbit for Melanie, and the need to look after the foal educates and helps both Orbit and Melanie, until the summer when Melanie decides to teach Orbit to come into the house. Alongside this innocent endeavour, someone is plotting to steal Orbit, because he's an Astronaut colt. Someone else wants to buy him, and Melanie, who loves her sister Katie very much, arranges to sell him so Katie can go to college. Except that Orbit is stolen the very day she makes the arrangement.

What follows is a mixture of adventure, romance, and a quite brilliant portrait of a family. If you can possibly get hold of a copy, do. The Puffin paperback is very cheap.

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Horse in the House was originally published in America by Coward-McCann in 1963. It was illustrated by the excellent Sam Savitt. The first British edition was virtually identical to the American, and was published by Methuen in 1966. Puffin published a paperback edition in 1969, which was reprinted many times. Alas I don't know who the illustration on the Puffin cover was by, so if anyone knows I'd be very glad if they could enlighten me!

You can read more on William Corbin and his horse books on my website.

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