Saturday, March 17, 2012

Good Horse Books for Kids!

by Laura Crum

Since my eleven year old son is a voracious reader, and he has a horse and loves him, horse books are very high on our priority list. We’ve read quite a few of them over the years, some of them written by authors from our very own blog. So today I want to talk about some of our favorites. And I’m going to start out with our “home” authors.

The first book we read that was written by one of our authors was Linda Benson’s “The Horse Jar”. My kid had seen this book on the sidebar of our blog, and thought it looked interesting. Linda very kindly sent him a signed copy (a big thrill). We read it together, and we both really enjoyed it. The characters were very believable and the story was one that a 9-10 year old could totally relate to. I loved the basic storyline, which shows a child making a very mature, loving, but difficult choice. My son is still very fond of this book.

Then, more recently, Alison came out with “Risky Chance” in the Horse Diaries series (this series is written by different authors, the common elements being the theme—books from a horse’s point of view set in different periods of history—and the excellent illustrations by Ruth Sanderson). My kid had wanted to try these books for a while (they were featured in the Chinaberry catalog—one of our favorite catalogs), so we ordered “Risky Chance.” This one my son read on his own, and reviewed here on the blog. I also read it, and really enjoyed it, particularly the setting (Southern California TB racing during the Depression). At this point my son became a Horse Diaries fan, and Alison very kindly sent us a signed copy of her other Horse Diaries title, “Bell’s Star.” The book is set in New England in the 1800’s and deals with a runaway slave and a Morgan horse-- we both liked that one a lot, too. Again, this was a book my kid read on his own and it kept his interest right until the end. Alison’s knowledge and love of horses really shines in both of these books. Now we’re busy acquiring the rest of the series.

Most recently, I ordered Alison’s book, “Gabriel’s Horses”, because after reading about it on her website, it seemed like it would make a perfect start to doing a “unit” on the Civil War. As a homeschooling mom, I am always looking for books that will provide a good prop for learning about something. And “Gabriel’s Horses” did not disappoint.

Set in Kentucky during the Civil War, the book is about a slave boy who wants to become a jockey. Gabriel is about my own son’s age, and the story painted a vivid portrait of what his life was like. We read the book chapter by chapter, with exercises (provided by me) of mapping the Confederate and Union States…etc. The book was GREAT—really kept both of us interested, gave you the feeling and many facts about the Civil War and slavery, without being too horrifying (which many books—even kid’s books—about this war are, because it was a truly horrifying event in terms of suffering). I recommended it to the teacher who leads our homeschool group, and she is going to read it to the whole group of kids next year. Again, the horse element was very well portrayed.

That covers the children’s books we’ve read so far by authors from the EI blog, though I’m sure we will be reading more. Certainly the second and third books in the Gabriel trilogy, and possibly Linda’s new book, if we ever start reading ebooks or it comes out in paper. So far we read only paper books, but who knows what the future will hold.

We have, of course, read many of the old classics—just finished “Black Beauty”, which is still a great read. Read “The Black Stallion,” which was well liked, and “The Island Stallion”, which I loved as a child, but my kid was not as enthralled by it as I was. We read my personal favorite, “Smoky the Cowhorse,” again, not as big a hit with my kid as it was with me. Maybe he needs to be older. Misty of Chincoteague was well received, also another childhood favorite of mine, Elizabeth Goudge’s “The Little White Horse.” I thought about reading “My Friend Flicka”, but when I reread it myself to preview it, I decided no, it’s just too dark. Maybe in awhile. Same verdict on Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony.”

So, there are a few good kid’s books about horses. Anyone want to chime in with your own favorites?


AareneX said...

Warhorse by Michael Morpurgo (the book that was the basis for the movie and the stage play) is extremely well-written and suitable for kids. The horse Joey narrates the story of his life as he is raised and trained on an English farm, then bought to serve as a British officer's mount, then is captured by the Germans and used as a cart horse, then is taken by the French....

The story is set in wartime, and bad/sad things happen in war, especially to animals, but the narrative is not gross nor unduly violent. Joey doesn't understand the reasons behind many events, but readers will.

This book also reads aloud well, and is available as a beautifully-read audiobook. I read the book, listened to the audio, watched the Spielberg movie, and can't wait to get tix to the stage play when it comes to Seattle.

Highly recommended.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, Aarene. I'll get that one and read it with my son next. Right now we're reading "Anne of Green Gables"--not a horse book, but great fun.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

For an older child with sufficient maturity I would recommend Siegried Sassoon's "Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man" which is the first part of the "George Sherston Trilogy". These are broadly autobiographical works by a writer perhaps better known for his war poetry. It starts off by recalling how the protagonist was taught to ride as a child in pre-First World War England, and then his progression into the gentrified horse culture of the era, centred on fox-hunting. The last few chapters set out how he joined the army thinking, as so many did, that the war would be over by Christmas.

This is a perceptive and well-written book, and the equestrian scenes described are interesting and sometimes amusing, being set in peace-time. The hero became utterly absorbed in riding, on which he spent all his time and the funds at his disposal, a position that some of us might sympathise with. The accounts of the war are not brutal - for that one may turn to the two following volumes of the trilogy which do not concern horses.

Unlike certain other works such as "War Horse" Sassoon does not present any "good news" story to try and mitigate man's inhumanity against man and beast. He was there, and found little to bring hope. However the first volume is lighter, even innocent, in contrast to the following two.

On a different note, Tschifferly wrote an account of his ride through the Americas, and also a children's book of the same but written from the perspective of his two horses. The first is fascinating, and I am told that the second also is a good read.

Laura Crum said...

whitehorsepilgrim--Thanks for the recommendation. The Sassoon book sounds fascinating. I will read it first and read it with my son if it seems appropriate for where he's at.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Paint the Wind is a great one.

Laura Crum said...

Jaye Robin Brown--Thank you. I don't know that one--will have to check it out.

Alison said...

Thank you Laura and 'your kid' for your terrific reviews! I hope you continue with the rest of the Gabriel trilogy--my favorite is the third book, Gabriel's Journey.

Let me know if you need a copy.

Laura Crum said...

You're welcome, Alison--thanks for the great books! And yeah, I try to keep my "kid's" name off the internet...maybe I'm just paranoid.

SunnySD said...

I suspect you may be in inundated with suggestions soon, but there are a couple of older titles that aren't so "girl" oriented that I enjoyed as a kid.

Old Bones, the Wonder Horse by Mildred Pace is a true story of Exterminator, a racehorse that lived an incredible life.

The Phantom Roan by Stephen Holt is a boy and his horse story about a young Canadian who's studying to be a vet.

Frog, the Horse the Knew No Master by Colonel S. P. Meek revolves around the "unbreakable" horse and the cavalry officer who gains his trust and makes a partner of him.

Those three were, and still are, favorites of mine. A more recent one which might be of interest since you're enjoying Anne of Green Gables which has a female lead, is Firehorse by Diane Lee Wilson. It centers on the deadly illness that hit the horses of Boston in the late 1800's, and how it ends up affecting one horse and one girl in particular.

Hope you get some great suggestions, and I for one will be checking back to see what they are!

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, SunnySD!--Those are all books I'm not familiar with. I will enjoy checking them out.

jane ayres said...

Hi all - when I was a teen I really enjoyed Jago by Hazel M Peel, which is set in the Australian outback and told from the viewpoint of the horse. I also liked the Fly by night books by K M Peyton. They seemed more realistic and gritty compared to many pony books, and quite quirky, which I liked. Maybe I should re-read some of my old favourites and see if they still affect me in the same way. Interesting to read about other people's books.

Laura Crum said...

Thank you, jane! Those books are new to me--will check them out. I've learned about a lot of books through this post (!)