Showing posts from December, 2014

PBOTD 31st December: Ruby Ferguson - Pony Jobs for Jill

I have changed my mind a couple of times over what book I would choose to round up the year with. In the end, Pony Jobs for Jill (1960) seemed ideal , because if ever a book encapsulated the tension between the pony-filled dreams of childhood and the harsh realities of adult life, that book is Pony Jobs for Jill.

In the her earlier Jill stories, Ruby Ferguson created an idealised world which we, her readers, loved. Whilst we were prepared to accept (and might even have welcomed) the total absence of romance in the series, we did not feel the same when Jill was not allowed to take up the horsy career we hoped she would have. That's not to say Ruby Ferguson disapproved of working women as a species: the series is filled with them. Mrs Crewe supports Jill and herself through her writing; the local stable is run by Mrs Darcy. No one ever doubts that Jill will work when she leaves school. In Jill Has Two Ponies, Catherine Crewe says:
“When all is said and done, Jill is the one to de…

PBOTD 30th December: Joan Selby Lowndes - Family Star

Today's PBOTD is Joan Selby-Lowndes' Family Star (1961), it is Jenny's birthday. It's a day which starts well, but it ends badly when Jenny finds the family's pony, Kitty, is lame. Kitty is not just any pony: she works for her living, pulling Jenny's father's flower cart.

The family is now up against it, as with no pony to pull the flower cart there is no income. Jenny, however, has some talent as an actress, and she gets a part in a pantomime. Fortunately, there's a part for Kitty too.
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PBOTD 29th December: Carol Vaughan - Dancing Horse

Carol Vaughan did write some pony books, but her main literary output was short stories. If you've read a PONY Magazine Annual or a Pony Club Annual from the 1960s or 1970s, you'll almost certainly have read one of her short stories.

She wrote Dancing Horse in 1966. It's the story of the Manorfields Stud, which is invaded by a herd of stray horses and ponies. They have come from a visiting circus, and escaped after the train transporting them derailed. The children who live at the stud dutifully return the horses to the circus, but they are very struck by the beautiful Arab, Roi Soleil. His rider, Fleurette, was injured when the train was derailed, and cannot ride him.

The Manorfields au pair, Monique, provides an element of mystery when she refuses to have anything to do with either horse or rider. In the end, of course, everything works out, and Roi Soleil goes on to have his glory day at the circus.

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PBOTD 28th December: Judith M Berrisford - Sue's Circus Horse

The next little section of pony books are all on pantomimes and circuses. Circuses tend not to be the sort of thing you do now after Christmas, but they were extremely popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and were often advertised in PONY Magazine.

Sue's Circus Horse is a very early Judith M Berrisford - the second. In it, heroine Sue buys the beautiful cream mare Ballita from the circus. Ballita is of course trained for the circus, and not as a riding pony, and this causes poor Sue all sorts of bother.

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PBOTD 27th December: Gillian Baxter - Ponies by the Sea

Today's PBOTD doesn't fit in brilliantly to the panto theme I thought I'd fit in between now and New Year, but this is all my own fault because I'd already used Gillian Baxter's Pantomime Ponies earlier in the year.

So, today's book is Ponies by the Sea, which is another from the same series. Actually, I will bung Pantomime Ponies  in too, just because I can, so here it is:

The series is about the ponies Magic and Moonshine, who work on stage. In Ponies by the Sea, Magic and Moonshine have been taken to the seaside to star in a summer show. There. I told you it didn't fit in to the theme. Or the season. Couldn't fit in less, in fact. But there you go. If the weather's vile after Christmas (I am writing this well before), it's always good to look forward to the better weather, so that's what this post's here to do. Look forward to a time we can paddle in the sea with our trousers rolled up and not need to be treated for hypothermia.

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PBOTD 26th December: Lorna Hill - Northern Lights

Lorna Hill hasn't featured in the PBOTD at all, mainly because I am not a huge fan of her work. Her hero Guy is someone who divides readers sharply. There are those who appreciate his caveman attitudes, and there are those who don't.

Be that as it may, today's book, Northern Lights (1999), does feature a Boxing Day hunt, which makes it quite a handy book for today. The book is the fourth Marjorie story, but it was rejected for publication when it was written, in the late 1940s, as the publishers thought people would far prefer to read stories which did not mention the war. The book languished until 1999, when publishers Girls Gone By visited Lorna Hill and were told about the story. They published it.

In Northern Lights, the children have a Christmas holiday in a vicarage, where Guy is mugging up his Latin as well as teaching at the local riding school. Guy maintains his position of moral authority, having not just his usual battles with Marjorie, but also spats with the a…

PBOTD 25th December: Patricia Leitch - Horse of Fire

The Christmas Day pony book is Patricia Leitch'sHorse of Fire, which contains some of my favourite Christmas pieces. Patricia Leitch isn't a judgemental writer, and she's certainly not judgemental about spirituality. Mysticism, Celtic mythology and Christianity all get equal respect in her books. Horse of Fire (1986) is the eleventh book of the series, and in it Jinny and Shantih are roped in to the local nativity play. Jinny has fine and splendid dreams about how she and Shantih will appear as glorious king and even more glorious horse, but when the moment comes, it's not like that at all. Jinny is cast into utter misery, but then, as they're leaving, a little boy stops and stares up at Shantih.

"The little boy stared up at Shantih, his eyes wide with tiredness and excitement.'I saw them,' he stated stubbornly. 'It was the golden wings it had.''You're right,' said Ken, speaking directly to the little boy. 'I saw them too.'&…

PBOTD 24th December: Jill's Gymkhana

If you'd been wondering when I'd get round to featuring Jill's Gymkhana, here it is at last, and here is Jill, at her first Christmas in Chatton. Earlier in Jill's Gymkhana, from which the illustration and extract come, Jill walks some children to school, for which she's paid. Mrs Crewe doesn't approve of Jill being paid for this at all - she's allowed to accept an apple or some sweets, but that's it. Jill's devastated, as she'd planned on using the money to feed Black Boy during the winter.

Now I'm older, I must admit I do wonder what those parents who paid Jill must have thought when their payments were returned. I like to think that they sympathised with her efforts to keep her pony, and I'm glad they gave Jill something splendid for Christmas which her mother couldn't reject.

"The magnificent thing was soon revealed, a lovely dark-blue pony rug bound round with scarlet. I was speechless. It was Mummy who picked up the card an…

PBOTD 23rd December: Wendy Douthwaite - The Christmas Pony

Here's a 1980s pony book which really couldn't be better titled for this time of year. Wendy Douthwaite's Christmas Pony (1985) is a gentle story about 11 year old Lindy, who is finding it very difficult to adapt to having a new stepmother, now her father has remarried after the death of her mother. She and her mother had a plan for Lindy to save for a pony and buy a foal. Eventually, Lindy has saved enough to go to the local Sale and buy a foal, but she gets rather more than she bargained for.

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PBOTD 22nd December: The Princess Pony Annual

I never had a Princess Tina Pony Book for Christmas, or any other time either, come to that. The one childhood experience I had with them was with the first one pictured, which a friend found secondhand, and brought to school, because it had a pattern in it you could use to make felt ponies. I was then, and am now, not a good sewer, but I set to with enthusiasm and made my ponies, as did my friends.

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PBOTD: 21st December - The Pony Club Annual

I loved the Pony Club Annual, which was as close as I ever got to the Pony Club. My sister and I had two. I hung on to mine for years, and then decided that I would sell them, which I did. The next year I decided that Pony Club annuals were a subject ripe for investigation, so I had to find new copies of the ones I'd sold. And copies of pretty well every other one published (I still don't have a complete run, but am not far off).

I loved the stories in the Pony Club Annual. The ones in the purple one below from 1972 were by Josephine Pullein-Thompson, Primrose Cumming and Carol Vaughan, and I think I knew them off by heart. The same authors also contributed stories to the 1974 edition.

The annuals I had were edited by Genevieve Murphy, who was the second editor. The first, who started the whole thing off, was Alan Delgado. And below is the very first Pony Club Annual. It appeared in 1950, and included a short story by Pamela Whitlock. It was beautifully illustrated, with contr…

PBOTD 20th December: the Follyfoot Annual

I, like I imagine every other horse-mad child in the 1970s who had a televsion, was glued to the screen during Follyfoot. Sadly, I never had a Follyfoot Annual, so here, to make up for that, are all the annuals I know about.

There were five annuals, from 1973-1977, and all included stories, comic strips and puzzles.

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PBOTD 19th December: Percy's Pony Annual

The next few blog posts are going to feature pony annuals, because it will be a rare pony loving child who did not receive one for Christmas.

My sister and I had a few PONY Magazine annuals between us - a big favourite was the 1973 one, because it had an article on Julip horses. The lucky subject of the article had a whole stableful of them. At that time, my sister and I had precisely none, but that didn't stop us wanting. We lived through that child and her table top crammed with horses.

Of course, at that age, it doesn't occur to you that the annuals you love have to start somewhere. Percy's Pony Annual wasn't the earliest pony annual - that honour belongs to the Pony Club, but it's certainly the most charming of the early efforts. It was the first annual published by PONY Magazine, and was quite unlike the ones that came after it. Percy the Przewalski, and his friends, had their own little section in the magazine. Readers could join the Percy and Allsorts League…

PBOTD 18th December: Suzanne Reynolds - Snowy the Christmas Foal

Today's book is one I hadn't heard of until I bought another collection of old PONY Magazines recently. The November 1962 edition reviewed Suzanne Reynolds' Snowy the Christmas Foal, which is a book 10 year old Suzanne wrote and illustrated herself. It's based on Suzanne's own pony, and is the rather sweet story of Snowy, who is born on Christmas Eve night. Snowy is a Christmas present for Mary, who whilst pleased with the kitten and sweets she gets for Christmas, had been hoping for a pony. Snowy and Mary (and a puppy) go on to have lots of adventures before Snowy is old enough to be broken in.

Col C E G Hope, editor of PONY and chief reviewer, wasn't always a fan of works by the junior writer ("I tend," he said, "to view published juvenilia of this kind with suspicion,") but he liked this book, calling it "charming" with "extremely promising illustrations."

The book was published to raise funds for the Institute of Can…

PBOTD 17th December: Shirley Faulkner-Horne - Bred in the Bone

Today's PBOTD is the second that celebrates the fact it's the Olympia Horse Show this week.

Shirley Faulkner-Horne was an early contributor to Riding Magazine, for whom she wrote several non fiction articles in the 1930s. Bred in the Bone was her first fictional work, and has a heroine who is not allowed to ride after someone in the family was injured in a riding accident. Cherry, however, is made of stern stuff and is determined to ride. Her grandmother helps in this by giving her a pony, Brownie, and the gardener helps by teaching her. Fortunately he used to be in the Cavalry, and he does such a good job that Cherry gets to appear at Olympia.

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Olympia Horse Show

PBOTD 16th December: Ruby Ferguson - Rosettes for Jill

Today's book is the start of a brief series to celebrate the fact it's Olympia at the moment. I don't think that the major horse show Jill and the Cortmans go to in this book is actually specified: it's obviously a very large one but that's all we know. So, I have stretched a point somewhat to get Rosettes for Jill in, but here it is.
If I was forced to the wall and told to list my favourite Jills, this would probably be one of them. I love the way Jill is, as ever, not keen on the prospect of new people coming to stay who might ruin her plans. This book's visitors are Melly and Lindo Cortman, and their dogs. The Cortmans are dog-mad, and at first take rather a lofty view of Jill and her ponies.

But then they are bitten by the pony bug. Being the fortunate possessors of wealthy parents, they're bought the wonder-pony Blue Shadow. Blue Shadow is beautiful. She is kind natured. She can show. She can jump. There is nothing she cannot do. There are times Jill …

PBOTD 15th December: Constance M White - Dream Pony

I'm picking up the theme of the most-wanted Christmas present here: the Dream Pony. For most children with a pony addiction, they'll be lucky if they manage riding school, let alone a pony of their own. The pony who lives in your dreams is the one you'll have most experience of: the pony whom only you can ride, who is touchingly pleased to see you, and who is always obliging, and never does any of the inconvenient and painful stuff that real life ponies do.

That said, Constance M White's Dream Pony (1951)is a more realistic example of the genre than most. For one thing, it has a sympathetic portrait of its gypsy characters, gypsies in most pony books being stigmatised as horse stealers at best. It's the story of a girl who did dream of ponies, and whose dreams were made real.

Constance M White was criticised by the Times Literary Supplement for not knowing enough about her subject, ballet, in her first school story, A Sprite at School, and so when she decided to wr…

PBOTD 14th December: Joanna Cannan - Gaze at the Moon

You might wonder what Joanna Cannan's Gaze at the Moon has to do with Christmas: not a very great deal, but the mare in it is called Air Frost, and that's suitably wintry.

I've always been very fond of this book, and apologise to regulars for yet another appearance from my immensely battered Armada paperback, still with me even though I have a first edition now.
Gaze at the Moon plays with pony book conventions: unlike many pony book heroines, including Joanna Cannan's own Jean, the adventure doesn't start with the wonderful removal from town to country. Dinah and her family are doing the exact opposite, and she's not at all happy about it. Fortunately, Dinah is a typically resolute Cannan heroine. Her own particular talent is drawing, and the book looks at the way she succeeds in getting her work used.

Against all the odds, Dinah does actually acquire a horse: Air Frost. I always wondered if Dinah's rather pointed remark: "I will not describe how we sc…

Books of the Year 2014

This round up of the year’s books is drawn from books I’ve read and reviewed this year. Not all of them were actually published in 2014: sometimes it takes me a while to get round to things. One thing that’s really noticeable  is that nine out of the eighteen books that really did it for me this year were self-published. New equestrian publisher Forelock also makes an appearance, with the excellent Beside Me by Carolyn Henderson and K M Peyton’s All That Glitters, and therefore do better than most of the established publishers. Usborne, Nosy Crow, Orion and Faber wave the flag for conventional publishing, with Fidra championing reprints.
My book of the year (in a very strong field) is the outstanding novella by Katharina Marcus: Boys Don’t Ride.
Adult reads Cressida Ellen Schofield:  Incapability Brown KDP £2.99
This is a witty, well drawn romance with thoroughly believable characters and plenty of excellent horse content. If romances are your thing, you will absolutely love this. I di…