Friday, 4 April 2014

PBOTD 4th April: Joanna Cannan - A Pony for Jean

Today's pony book is one of the first to put an individual rider right at the centre of the book. Earlier authors, like Moyra Charlton (The Midnight Steeplechase, 1932) and Marjorie Mary Oliver (The Ponies of Bunts, 1933, Sea Ponies, 1935) had written stories about groups of children, but Jean was gloriously at the centre of her story. Living in straightened circumstances (intriguingly, pepper has gone wrong for her father) Jean and her parents have moved out to the country. They're not genuinely poor, just suffer the middle class problem of having a lifestyle to uphold but not being entirely sure where the money to enable it all is going to come from. This was a lifestyle Joanna Cannan knew all about. When it became obvious she was going to have to be the earner in her marriage, she tried breeding dogs and writing. Writing it was, and the family moved from Wimbledon to Oxfordshire in an attempt to save money.

Knight paperback, 1970
Fortunately Jean has cousins. They are superior, and all ride. Jean can't, but that doesn't stop her pretending she can, and having a disastrous ride on her most superior cousin's horse, Hesperus. Whatever they think of Jean's abilities, the cousins have a horse they call the Toastrack that they don't much want, and so, renamed Cavalier, he becomes Jean's.
American 1st edition, Scribners, 1937
Like yesterday's book, F K Brown's The Last Hurdle, Jean doesn't bother much with the process of learning to ride. It sort of happens, aided by books. And happens quite successfully as Jean and Cavalier carry, if not quite all, a satisfying sufficiency, at the gymkhana.

Knight paperback, 1973
A Pony for Jean was illustrated by Anne Bullen, and went through several reprints in a form pretty similar to the American edition illustrated above. It was issued in paperback by Knight in 1970 with a relatively sensible cover, and then in 1973 with a cover whose illustrator had only the most tenuous grip of what the book was actually about. Jean is dressed in a splendidly seventies outfit of clashing colours and fringes (I do like to imagine just what Major Holbrooke would have made of it), and she's riding a horse. Definitely a horse.  That was, unfortunately, that as far as reprints of the book went, and it remains out of print.

For more on the author, you might like to look at my website.

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