Showing posts from April, 2014

PBOTD 30th April: The Black Beauty Annuals

Here's the last of the Black Beauty themed posts: this one is annuals, annuals all the way. If you were obsessed with the television series The Adventures of Black Beauty, then the annuals were just what you needed while the series was off the air, because in those days there were no such things as videos, or iPlayer. Once it was off the air, that was your lot.  So here, for your delectation, are the Black Beauty annuals:

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PBOTD: 29th April, Richard Carpenter:

Following on from the Black Beauty theme is a book which takes up where the book leaves off: though it does turn Beauty into a Victorian version of Champion the Wonder Horse, full of amazing abilities. I didn't care when I watched the series. They could just have replayed the opening scenes with Beauty galloping up the hill a hundred times, and I'd still have watched. 
I can't actually remember much about the series now. What I do remember is that I wanted to be Judi Bowker. I was quite some way off. I've got over wanting to be Judi now, but Beauty - I still want him.

The Adventures of Black Beauty stories were written by several scriptwriters. Richard Carpenter (who also wrote Catweazle, Robin of Sherwood and another favourite of mine, The Ghosts of Motley Hall) contributed 17 out of the 52 episodes. Some of them were turned into book form. and that's how The Best of Black Beauty came about. The stories see Ned learning to ride, Jonah the donkey (I have completel…

PBOTD: 28th April, Phyllis Briggs: Son of Black Beauty

There's a bit of a theme over the pony books featured in the next few days. Anna Sewell's Black Beauty has already featured, but it inspired many spin offs, and that's what the next few days will cover.

Today's book is Phyllis Briggs' Son of Black Beauty. I will be charitable to this book, and assume that Anna Sewell drew a Victorian veil of decency over Beauty's exploits before he was gelded, and his foray into a nearby field full of mares.

Phyllis Briggs does acknowledge the fundamental liberty she's taken. In the introduction to my copy, she says: " “in this book the art of the storyteller has been enlisted to produce what Black Beauty the horse could not - a son.”

I hadn't realised until I started researching this post, but the latest Dean edition, illustrated below, is retold by Georgina Hargreaves. The earlier Dean is abridged. So, stick to the first edition if you want the full text!

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PBOTD: 27th April, Sheila Chapman - A Pony and His Partner

Today's pony book was written by an author who had four books under her belt by her mid teens: they were written between the ages of 12 and 15. A Pony and His Partner, the first of them, was published in 1959. The books are much darker than the usual teenage pony book. Death and disaster stalk the books, but the heroines always win through in the end.

Carmen, the heroine of A Pony and His Partner and The Mystery Pony (1960), has come to live with her cousins after her parents' death.  Carmen does find a new home with her pony, Oberon, though in the next book, the pony dies. The books appealed to those teenagers who have realised that life is not all sunshine. 13 year old Roberta Wilkinson, reviewing A Pony and His Partner in Pony Magazine, called the story “moving” and “thoroughly enjoyable.”

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For more on the author, see her page on my website.

PBOTD 26th April: Sam Savitt - There Was a Horse

It's the Maryland Hunt Cup today, so to celebrate, here's the one book I know about which features it. If you know of more, please let me know.
The Maryland Hunt Cup started in 1894, when the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club challenged the Green Spring Valley Hounds to a race over timber. The next year, the race was open to members of fox hunts in Maryland, and in 1903, members of Hunt Clubs throughout the USA and Canada were able to enter. The Cup has a permanent home at Worthington Valley, and is run over four miles, with 22 fences. 
There Was A Horse (1961) is the story of high school senior Mike Benson, who buys a grey horse called Viking. His brother, Chris, encourages him to train Viking, but it doesn't go well. Mike falls off, again and again and again, and he can't control Viking. However, a new farmhand solves the mystery of why the horse behaves as he does, and they train the horse to steeplechase with such success that he enters the Maryland Hunt Cup. 
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For m…

PBOTD 25th April: Eleanor Helme - Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony

Eleanor Helme, like so many pony book writers after her, believed firmly in the superiority of the countryside over the town. Her first two books (Jerry, the Story of an Exmoor Pony (1930) and The Joker and Jerry Again (1932)) were both co-written with Nance Paul. 
The hero of the book, Robin Marson, and his family are well off enough to buy the pony. The only thing that stops them riding is the fact they live in London. Robin's foal is kept by a local farmer until the family move down from London to Exmoor.  Fortunately for the progress of the story, this move takes some years, by which time Jerry is old enough to be broken in and ridden about the moor.  
I do like the description of the pot-hunting boy who appears at Exford Show, which Robin and his pony Jerry have also entered. Here he is, dressed in splendid newness, but somehow all wrong. He's the precursor of Susan Pyke and all those other pot hunters who ruined things for the honest but poor pony lover. (And, if you re…

PBOTD 24th April: Monica Dickens - Spring Comes to World's End

Today's PBOTD is the last in the World's End series - but it is the most appropriate for the time of year. If you're wondering, the series order is:

The House at World's End
Summer at World's End
World's End in Winter
Spring at World's End
Spring at World's End (1973)sees the Fielding parents absent yet again. They're crewing yachts to try and earn enough money to buy World’s End.  Mr Fielding is just as feckless and self-absorbed as he is in the other books. He leaves the cash he and Mrs Fielding have earned in a jacket pocket; forgets to tell his wife that's what he's done, and she gives the jacket away to a beggar. When Uncle Rudolph makes over World’s End to the Fieldings in gratitude for their rescue of his wife from kidnappers, he makes it over to the children, not their father:

“I’ve given it away.” Uncle Rudolf paused for an eternity. ‘To you. Not to that feckless father of yours. He’d gamble it away, or set fire to it, or let it get dr…

PBOTD 23rd April: Helen Griffiths - Wild at Heart

Helen Griffiths was one of those authors I encountered as an adult. I honestly don't know what I'd have made of her books if I'd read them when I was small. They are a whole world away from nice families, ponies and gymkhanas. From her earliest book Horse in the Clouds (1957), written when she was 16, she steered away from the conventional. Horse in the Clouds was set in the Argentine, and most of her succeeding stories were set in the Spanish-speaking world. Her books are often about the casual cruelty with which man treats the horse; and if you read pony books as escapism, these are emphatically not the books for you.
The Wild Heart is my favourite of her stories. It is the story of La Bruja, a wild South American horse, who is blessed (or cursed) with great speed from her Thoroughbred grandsire. She is hunted for her speed; and in the end a seeming cruelty is her only hope of survival in freedom. 

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For more on the author, she has a page on my website here.

PBOTD 22nd April: Monica Dickens - The House at World's End

Monica Dickens was expelled from St Paul’s School for Girls for throwing her school uniform over Hammersmith Bridge. Her children's books saw a similar dislike for convention. Not for her the comfort of carefree holiday adventure: her children meet real, and awful problems. Her Follyfoot series left its readers in little doubt about the cruelties man could, and did, visit upon horses. Her World's End books don't have quite the strident confrontation with reality as Follyfoot, but these are children who have real problems.  World’s End, had its initial premise in that hoary chestnut of children’s book plots: the absent adults. In most books using this device, any adult who might control what will happen disappears for some convenient reason in the first few pages of the book, leaving the child heroes with the length of the summer holidays for adventure. In most cases, we know that adults are hovering on the edge, just in case: Uncle Quentin is not too far away from Enid Blyt…

PBOTD 21st April: Nancy Caffrey - Pony Duet

PBOTD for 21st April is an American book by an author who's a favourite there, but has been very little published in the UK. The book I'm featuring today, Pony Duet, is the one title of Nancy Caffrey's that was published in the UK as well.
Pony Duet is the story of Cathy, whose riding confidence has been rocked. Just when she thinks she's going to give up riding altogether, her aunt Myla Lee sends her a skewbald pony called Duet. Duet is the absolutely ideal pony for anyone who's suffering from riding fear. Every stable should have one.

Calm, kind, and utterly sensible, Duet works her magic on Cathy, and they do really well together, but Duet has to go back. Cathy wants to keep her, but she faces her own selfish desires so that Duet can go on and work her magic with another fearful rider.

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For much more on the author, see her page on my website.

PBOTD 20th April: Patricia Leitch - The Magic Pony

I'm plagiarising myself here: this is the text of a review I wrote a couple of years ago when Catnip reissued The Magic Pony. I don't think I can usefully say anything more than I said then. This is a fantastic book.

# Patricia Leitch’s books are immensely satisfying; multi-layered: they succeed on so many levels. If you want to read The Magic Pony as a pony adventure in which a girl rescues a woman from dying somewhere she didn't want to; rescues a mistreated pony from appalling conditions, and sees her own horse recover from a mystery foot injury, it works perfectly on that level. As a pony story, it is extraordinarily good, but it has much to say on ageing, and on death, and on how we perceive those around us.

The Magic Pony is the seventh in the Jinny series. Jinny is struggling with school (the intractability of algebra), and the utter frustration of a half term that has seen even she, normally uncaring about the weather, restricted to home in the face of the deluge th…

PBOTD 19th April: H M Peel - Easter the Show Jumper

Today's PBOTD is another which is appropriate for the time of year: it's H M Peel's Easter the Show Jumper. Easter is the third in the Leysham Stud series. Ann and Jim Henderson have a stud, whose stallion is her piebald stallion, Pilot. In the first two books, Ann's managed to get over Pilot's dreadful temper, and he's turned into a talented hunter (Pilot the Hunter, 1962) and chaser (Pilot the Chaser, 1964). 

The equine heroine of the third book is Easter, Pilot's sister. She has inherited his temperament (as indeed do several horses in the succeeding novels, which though it makes for good dramatic reads, does make you glad they're not breeding for temperament, because it's failing).

Easter has ability in spades, but for Ann to make her into a serious show jumper is going to take Herculean efforts. Easter is unpredictable; often jumping, but just as often refusing or bolting. She's not the only equine problem: there's Magic the Shetland, t…

PBOTD 18th April: Elizabeth Waud - Easter Meeting

Today's pony book has a thoroughly appropriate title: Easter Meeting. Author Elizabeth Waud wrote just one pony book, as far as I'm aware. Easter Meeting is the story of Geoffrey, Felicia, Simon and Loraine Knox. They spend their holidays with an aunt, who has a stud farm. Simon wants to look after his animals; Loraine to paint, but Felicia wants only to ride, and it looks as if this will be scuppered as a party of boys are also coming to stay. After initial disasters when they meet the boys, things calm down, and they all go to a point to point and co-operate in rescuing a horse stuck on the quicksands.

The book is full of well-observed characters. Flicker (Felicia) is one of those personalities whose feelings and impulses tend to govern everybody else’s. Miss Knox, the aunt with whom the children are staying is brisk in the extreme. The children’s parents are away, which they mostly seem to be, and there is a rather poignant moment when Geoffrey, the eldest at 17, is aske…

PBOTD 17th April: Catherine Harris - Riding for Ransom

Riding for Ransom is the third in the Marsham family series (and apologies for not including them thus far - Riding for Ransom makes it in because it's set in the Easter holidays). The Marshams are one of those large chaotic families quite common in pony books, but this family pride themselves on being dashing. This does cause them problems in the first two series, but they're worked out without too much effect on the realism of the plot. Riding for Ransom is different. The youngest son, Timothy, is kidnapped. This it turns out, is because he was mistaken for Simon, the son of the wealthy American family staying with the Marshams.

So far, so good, but the author's need to maintain the Marsham children's position as dashing above all things leads her into some very odd alleys. I do find with this book the more that I read it, the more blindingly odd it seems. The scene which most makes me goggle is when Mrs Marsham hands the decision on whether or not to go to the polic…

PBOTD 16th April: Elizabeth Wynne - Heronsway

You get two pony books for the price of one today:  the Heronsway books, Pony Quest and Rescue Team were both published in 1989. That was as far as the series got. The author, Elizabeth Wynne, was a pseudonym used by the author Wendy Douthwaite. Under that name she'd already written several books for different publishers. She also wrote at least one title for the Animal Ark series: Donkey Derby (1999). The Heronsway books were the only ones based around an equestrian centre.
In the first book, Pony Quest, Sandy is the classic pony mad heroine: she longs for a pony of her own, and in particular, she wants Quest. She already actually has an owner, and Sandy shares caring for the mare in return for rides. She gets to have the mare on loan for a year at the end of the book, which we learn during what must be one of the cheeriest announcements of a parental divorce ever. Everyone is frighteningly well-adjusted. Stand back Ms Paltrow, the equestrian world was there way before you with c…

PBOTD 15th April: Josephine Pullein-Thompson - Show Jumping Secret

Josephine Pullein-Thompson had a passion for instruction.  Her own acquaintance with the Pony Club, that usual vehicle of equine learning for the young, was brief. An early rally she and her sisters went to was held at Stonor Park, and centred on stable management.  The lecture was held in a Victorian stable, and as the door was blocked by older children, the Pullein-Thompsons saw and heard nothing. 
Josephine's experience of mounted rallies was brief. In Fair Girls and Grey Horses she describes how she hired a “clipped, stabled and corn-fed pony over which I had absolutely no control.”  There were no more pony club rallies after that.  Despite this early off-putting start, as an adult Josephine went on to become District Commissioner of the Woodland Hunt Pony Club, and she maintained her belief that horses should be ridden properly, and that there was always, always, room for improvement.  Angela Bull, writing in Twentieth Century Children's Writers, says that worship of the…

PBOTD 14th April: Diana Pullein-Thompson - The Pennyfields

Today's pony book is one you quite possibly haven't read. The Pennyfields (1947) was published twice in paperback form by Armada in the 1960s, and that was its lot. It was Diana’s least successful book. The Pennyfields moves away from the first person portrayal of a solitary girl with which she was most at home, and features a large family, bursting with characters. Chaotic and ebullient, the Pennyfields are short of money (in the traditional pony book sense only; the children go away to school, have a large house and a housekeeper, but they lack money for frills). They are trying to earn enough to buy a pony and a shotgun. They already have a donkey  It's rather a frustrating book to read: the family’s schemes are doomed never to work out quite as they should. Their efforts to provide a removal service are almost scuppered by their disobedient donkey, and their transport service comes within a whisker of being wrecked by the spectacularly tactless younger sister Jennet. A…

PBOTD 13th April: Joanna Cannan - They Bought Her A Pony

In They Bought Her a Pony (1944), Joanna Cannan's heroine, Angela Peabody, moves out to the country. You'd expect, if Angela were a conventional pony book heroine, that she would not have a pony but would long for one and would acquire one, before going on to beat the local girls at the gymkhana, most of whom were rich and not, therefore, terribly good riders.
However, in this book, it's Angela Peabody who's rich. Very rich indeed. Her family's money is however lately acquired and Angela is hopelessly over-indulged (it's interesting to see this model being used in Joanna's daughter Diana's later book Three Ponies and Shannan, where Christina though indulged is not spoiled). We do see a little of a better Angela: before they move, she buries her little model horses in the window box so they can't be thrown out.
Alas, this is only a temporary retreat into the determined pursuit of right that is the lot of the pony girl. Angela is an object lesson of …