Desert Island Pony Books: Sheena Wilkinson

I'm delighted to welcome Sheena Wilkinson to the latest edition of Desert Island Pony Books. Sheena has been described in The Irish Times as 'one of our foremost writers for young people.' Her first three books, including the award-winning Taking Flight and Grounded, all centre round horses, though very much at the gritty, realistic end of the spectrum.

Her 2017 novel, Star By Star, published to commemorate female suffrage, isn't horsey but she always manages to sneak a horse in somewhere. Maybe that's why her current trend is for historic fiction -- where it's so much easier to do that! 


This was HARD! So hard that I had to make rules for myself – otherwise I would have wanted to cheat and bring along, for example, all the Jills instead of picking one. Or I might have filled my island with nothing but K.M.Peyton. So – no series, and only one book per author, which made it even harder in some ways!

Sheena and Scarlet
The Team (K.M. Peyton)
I love all her books, and I can’t believe I have left out Flambards! But I chose The Team because in some ways it’s the most classic pony story, and in other ways it’s so innovative. Ruth gets her period! She makes problematic decisions. People behave badly and awful things happen to good ponies. And there are boys. I had a crush on both Jonathan and Peter – I still think K.M. Peyton is the best at writing crush-worthy characters. When I went on to write three novels with horses at their centre, The Team was very much the book that inspired me.

Jill Has Two Ponies (Ruby Ferguson)
I love Jill because she is so funny. And the world of Chatton was so seductive to a girl in a Belfast housing estate, scrabbling money together to get a riding lesson a few times a year. I longed to be galloping over Neshbury Common with Jill and her friends. Jill’s difficulties in bonding with her new pony are another variation on the rash decision theme, but everything is much sunnier than in K.M.Peyton’s world. Jill still makes me laugh out loud: the cast of supporting characters is especially delightful – the hapless Cholly-Sawcutt girls, Mercy Dulbottle and ghastly cousin Cecilia. And the illustrations are wonderful.

I Wrote A Pony Book (Joanna Cannan)
Jill despised school stories, and I knew I was meant to. But I loved them so much that I ended up doing my PhD on them. I Wrote A Pony Book was brilliant because it combined school story with pony story. Alison is a wonderful character, fat, witty and original. The scenes with her friends Harry and Hop, when they try to collaborate on a novel, are among the funniest I know in any kind of literature. And there’s the most glorious wish-fulfilment, because not only does Alison have her own lovely Highland pony, but she has her book published! I could never decide, as a child, which one I longed for more.

I Wanted A Pony Book (Diana Pullein-Thompson)
Diana was easily my favourite P-T, and it was a toss-up between this and Riding With The Lyntons, but as Linda Newbery picked that one, I’ve gone for this, the first book in the Augusta/Christina series. Augusta’s loneliness when she is sent to her ghastly cousins is so well drawn, and then of course there are the exciting events which lead to her being able to buy her own pony, Daybreak. I was thrilled to meet Augusta again in Three Ponies and Shannan, and to see her make friends with poor little rich girl, Christina.

The Summer Riders (Patricia Leitch)
Wild Highland scenery, a wild Arab circus horse, a wild, artistic, selfish heroine – I loved all the Jinny books (though much preferred the ones without the magic realism), and this is my favourite. I so identified with Jinny’s jealousy and meanness when city girl Marlene has her beady eye on the beloved Shantih. It’s not a spoiler to say that Jinny’s better nature triumphs – though it doesn’t always, which is one reason I loved the books. And Shantih is beautiful and a bit scary, but for me the real equine star is Bramble the Highland trekking pony, who Knows His Rights.

And the one I’d throw away...

Oh, the misery of going to the library in a pony book mood and finding there was nothing on the shelves except… Jackie! The only title I remember is Jackie Won A Pony, which actually isn’t the worst, but I disliked these books intensely, though I must have read more than one – I think I must have travelled hopefully with Jackie, optimism triumphing over experience. Even as a child they just seemed shallow, Jackie and her friends two-dimensional in a way that Jill never was. I suppose they were written for younger children, but they looked the same as other paperback pony books in the seventies so it was easy to be taken in.


Sheena at Little Island

You can follow Sheena on Twitter

Star By Starwinner of the CBI Honour Award for Fiction is out now (Little Island).


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