Celebrating the Year of the Horse with Books about Horses

February 2, 2014

beautiful girl feeds a horse with sugarHow else would a reader and a writer celebrate? There have been some cherished horses in my life, and most of them were the stuff of story.

A few, like my grandfather’s prize Clydesdale, Prairie Prince, came alive for me in stories told to me by my parents, but most of the horses I knew and loved were found in books. I suspect you know at least some of them, as well.

I’ve blogged about some of these books before. I hope that you won’t mind too much if I mention them again as we enter the Lunar Year of the Horse.

In the Chinese horoscope, according to the website Travel China Guide, the horse is seen to be “energetic, bright, warm-hearted, intelligent and able.” Those characteristics can certainly be seen in the horses I’m about to talk about.

Before there were storybook apps, or even audio books in the format we know them today, there were records that allowed kids to listen to stories being read to them. That is the way I first encountered Squire Gordon’s beautiful black horse with a white star on his forehead, and one white foot, Black Beauty. I often went to sleep listening to an abridged version of that wonderful story on a 33 1/3 rpm record (a record that I wish I still had, although I have no turntable to play it on).

The story is told in the first person, by Black Beauty himself, which gives it a real sense of immediacy and realism for the reader. The reader feels everything that Beauty feels, sees things through Beauty’s eyes. Some of the story, particularly when Beauty is reduced to being a cab horse, may be a bit intense for young children, but it is a story worth sharing.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that my sixth grade teacher always read aloud to the class after lunch. I am so grateful for that. She read a wide variety of books to us, but the ones that particularly stay in my memory were a trilogy by Mary O’Hara: My Friend Flicka, the story of a boy’s — Ken McLaughlin’s — first colt; Thunderhead, about the wild stallion who was Flicka’s son (sadly out of print); and Green Grass of Wyoming, (also out of print) which tells, on one level, of Thunderhead running wild and causing havoc by stealing mares from ranchers’ herds, but on a deeper, more adult level, shows Ken growing up and falling in love, while his mother struggles with anxiety and his father with financial issues.

While the final book of the trilogy may be too intense for children under 12, the first two are gems. There are also movie versions — I recommend the original My Friend Flicka, made in the 1940s, and starring Roddy McDowall as Ken McLaughlin. (As it turns out, there is a trilogy of movies as well, with McDowall in the lead role in the first two, and another actor in the last.)

Much later, in the late 1980s when I was long since considered an adult, I discovered a simple series of middle grade novels, The Saddle Club series, which told (in numerous volumes) the stories of three girls who became friends at riding school. These are the sort of books that kids devour one after the other, like the Nancy Drew books of my growing up years.

They had another effect on me — they ignited the desire to write my own series of books for kids, but mine would have a theatre theme. Yes, that desire was born back in the 1980s, because of a series of horse stories. I wrote a couple of manuscripts back then, then set them aside when another writing project caught my imagination, but the desire has remained, and has come to the fore again, and I have the Saddle Club to thank for helping me realize that maybe I could do what I dreamed of, just as Carole, Stevie, and Lisa learned in book after book.

Not all the horse books I love are for kids. One of my favorite books, horse or otherwise, is Traveller by Richard Adams (who also wrote Watership Down). Like Black Beauty, this book is written in first person and is told from the point of view of a horse — Robert E. Lee’s horse, in fact, who tells the story of the Civil War from a horse’s perspective. Blue men fighting grey men, and “horses always saying goodbye.” It’s a moving story, and helps the reader see in a different way just what went on during that war.

There are many other horse stories, I know. Misty of Chincoteague comes to mind. (I never knew how to pronounce that when I was a kid!) I hope you’ll share your favorites in the comments.

On another note, if your kids would like do some activities linked to the celebration of the Year of the Horse, Activity Village, a site that originates in the UK, suggests some fun things to do.

May you have a wonderful Year of the Horse!

6 People reacted on this

  1. Being a city gal growing up, I never had any interest in horses, but I did enjoy reading Misty of Chincoteague and was a bit fascinated by National Velvet (probably more a fascination with Liz Taylor, really). I watched a BBC TV series (I assumed it was British) on Black Beauty in the early 70s after moving to Canada. I can still hear the theme song in my head. Do you remember that show, Beth?

  2. Great idea, reading about horses for the Year of the Horse! I’ve been wanting to read Black Beauty for a bit now. And I’ve always wanted to REALLY ride a horse (for more than those 5 minute rides at birthday parties). 😉

  3. What wonderful classics for the Year of the Horse. I loved and still love a good horse story or movie. My daughter was riding horses in the early 90s and loved the Saddle Club series.

  4. Did you ever go back and tell your 6th grade teacher how powerful she was and how important those read alouds were? I regret it SO MUCH that I never went back to let my 5th grade teacher know how she changed me by reading those stories to my class every day. As soon as somebody invents a time machine, that will be my first stop…. 🙂

  5. Horse books. There are as many horse books in my house as dog books. My Mom Person’s favorite all time is Smoky by Will James. She has a bazillion copies of it – all old and smelling like horse. Those Saddle Club books are really popular at school. It’s nice to picture you as a horse girl.

  6. Black Beauty was one of my all time favourites growing up. I lived on a ranch and there were always horses around. I didn’t really like riding them but loved watching them in the fields. What a great idea to feature books about horses when celebrating the Year of the Horse (my son’s year actually).

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