Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Book Review: happy memories

How many of us as little girls poured over horse books? I know I did. Sitting in the book-lined living room last night exchanging stories and news with my folks, I was pleased to see a few old childhood friends still had their places. I pulled one out to leaf through, and ended up spending an hour or so last night catching up. I even found the beginnings of a school report on Clydesdales tucked between the pages - sadly, my handwriting hasn't improved since what I'm guessing was 3rd grade!

Album of Horses by Marguerite Henry (Illustrated by Wesley Dennis)
There are plenty of horse encyclopedias out there with beautiful pictures that will inform you in somewhat sterile prose about the horse breed of your choice. This isn't an encyclopedia. Nor is it exhaustive, but it has a charm all its own. Each of the 24 equine types represented is given roughly four pages of space. From exotic Arabians and sturdy Morgans, wiry polo ponies and massive Clydesdales, to the lowly burros and recalcitrant mules, Henry treats each with reverence and sometimes humor. And better still, with story. The American Saddle Horse (five gaited horses - anyone know, is this still what they're called, or are they now Saddlebreds?) is a real tear-jerker.

And the illustrations! Henry opted, instead of photos, to decorate her text with lovely full color, full page renderings by Wesley Dennis. Whether head shots or action, they're a huge part of what makes the book so memorable. And the charming little pencil drawings scattered about each page's margins are entertainment of themselves. You can almost picture Dennis browsing through Henry's manuscript, sketching in trotters and foxes and buffalo as the urge struck him. At least that's how I see like to envision it.

It may not be encyclopedic, but it's still a marvelous window to the horse world - and to the past. I'm not sure that Suffolk Punches still dot the hills of Suffolk County, or that teams of Clydesdales are still commonly seen pulling heavy loads in the Midwest and on the plains of Canada, but some of the equine varieties featured are certainly still going strong, and they all have their own proponents. Now if only everyone would still treat their horses with such care, and select their breeding partners so meticulously! as Henry credits the Arab chieftains with doing.
I spent many an hour as a kid with Henry's books - not just this one. Curled up with Misty of Chincoteague, or Brighty of the Grand Canyon - racing with King of the Wind - it was good to find it still here on the shelf, and to know that my uncle likely enjoyed it just as much when he was young - it's enscribed to him as a gift, Christmas of 1959.


Anonymous said...

I read every horse book I could get my hands on, and still have many of them - you've inspired me to go dig them out and look at them again!

Stephanie said...

What a great post! You brought back such fond memories for me :) I have read every one of Henry's books. And when I was a little girl my family and I used to go camping on Assategue Island (Chincoteague's sister Island) with the wild ponies. And oh the great little girl horse fantasy's that would spring up while lying in the sand dunes with those books and watching the ponies graze on the sea grass just a few feet away. Those are some of my most cherished childhood memories!!
Thank YOU!