Kids Books for Horse Lovers
A Horse for Every Kid
Let’s start with a show of hands: How many of you are sending a kid to horseback riding camp this summer? Or to a camp where your kid can ride for part of the day? Or have been asked by your kid about some summer activity involving horses? I thought so.
There’s something archetypal about a kid and a horse that persists—across seasons, through years, down generations, and there’s a whole genre of books to prove it: Black Beauty, National Velvet, Misty of Chincoteague. We tend to think in terms of girl + horse, but then you remember The Black Stallion series, and all bets are off. I can’t say I entirely understand, but I’ve watched my daughter, her cousins, and a good number of her friends wander in and out of stables and camps—some more seriously than others—and I’ve had to acknowledge there’s substance to the stereotype. And the thing is, not all horse books are made equal, and not all horse books are about the same kind of horse. They vary widely in point of view, theme, style, plot and they tend to become a repository for a whole range of human issues. Which is to say: horse books aren’t just for kids who like horses.
These three contemporary books—one chapter book, one middle grade reader, one young adult—all published since 2011, represent the range of what’s possible in the genre. They’re are all excellent choices for your child—whether she loves horses or not, whether she’s a she or not.
By Jane Kendall
Imagine the American Girl series with horses instead of girls and you have the premise of The Horse Diaries. Each volume in this series of chapter books tells the story of a horse and his human, in a particular historical period, from the horse’s point of view. Black Beauty set the precedent for this, of course, and while some kids don’t buy it, others love it. Tennessee Rose is set in 1856 and tackles slavery through the eyes of a Tennessee Walking horse (the book is full of great facts about this interesting, particularly American breed).The prose is clear, the characters, equine and human, are well-rendered, and the historical details, as in the American Girl series, are age appropriate. Tennesee Rose tackles plantation farming, slave literacy, the sundering of slave families, Civil War conscription and Rose’s boy owner’s escape to freedom in the north. It loosely but smartly parallels that other, much more adult historical genre, the slave narrative. With its vivid illustrations and ample adventure (boy and horse go to war) this one should appeal equally to boys, girls, horse kids and budding historians. The added value to The Horse Diaries is that as with any good series, is that once your child gets started, chances are she’ll read more than one.
Ages 8-12 | Publisher: Random House Children’s Books | August 7, 2012
By Jane Smiley
This is a lovely gem of a book, thoughtfully written and carefully attuned to the inner life of its adolescent protagonist, Abby Lovitt. It’s also packed with equestrian details and of the three reviewed here, it’s the most likely to appeal to the girl who’s a rider. Pie in the Sky is the fourth in Smiley’s Horses of Oak Valley Ranch Series, and it’s decidedly character driven. In this volume, 12-year-old Abby is about to enter high school. Her struggles there parallel her quest at the stable to get her beloved enigma of a horse, True Blue, to jump. A perfectionist fellow rider, a dictatorial trainer, and an unorthodox trader make for the real drama in the ring and the book culminates in an exhilarating coming-of-age epiphany that in which Abby has to reckon with family, friends, and horse. In Abby, Smiley renders the kinds of qualities—independence, bravery, originality, strength, leadership—that you want a good girl character to have (and which most of us hope our daughters internalize). Set in California in the 1960s, there’s a satisfying tussle between the traditional and the contemporary, the old and the new, that feels especially relevant to the Abby’s age and state of mind. They don’t call books for this age group middle readers by accident, and Smiley’s contribution to the genre is a graceful, sophisticated one.
Ages 10 and up | Publisher: Random House Children’s Books | September 11, 2012
To call this book a horse book is only part of the story. It’s also: a romance, a fantasy, an action-adventure. I couldn’t put it down. Stiefvater’s prose is vivid, lyrical, and compelling. It’s the kind of prose that calls attention to itself, and one of the great pleasures of this book is the concrete pleasure of the language. It’s high octane writing for an intense story: on a vaguely Celtic, vaguely contemporary island, a community shapes their lives, their traditions, their rituals, and their economy around the Scorpio Races. Every November, the water horses rise out of the sea surrounding this—and only this—island. Half horse, half fish, all myth, the water horses emerge from the foam, are captured by islanders, trained, and then ridden down the beach in a brutal, violent race which always ends with someone’s death.
Written in alternating first person points-of-view, The Scorpio Races follows the fate of Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly both of whom have been orphaned by water horses. Kendrick is the island’s undisputed champion and gifted trainer of horses—water and land. Puck is the newcomer, riding to earn the money to save her family home. The island is bleak and harrowing; the water horses are wild and harrowing; the romance that grows between Puck and Sean is intense and exhilarating. Stiefvater has created a mythology for the island and a rich cast of supporting characters—villains and heroes alike, strong women, terrible men, great friends, tender siblings. There’s something elemental and bleak about the island and the horses, but Maggie and Sean’s story is tough and, ultimately, redemptive. There’s a little bit of Heathcliff and Cathy or Rochester and Jane in their storm-crossed attraction, and it’s heartening to see Puck struggle with her desire but never sacrifice herself or her ambition. If you’re looking for a strong, smart, adventurous, flawed, utterly compelling heroine, Puck is your girl. And if you’re the parent of a girl, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that she finds unlikely female mentors to help her along the way. Because of the violence and romance, this one skews a little older, but if your reader likes horses, or fantasy, or The Hunger Games, or the wild imagination of the Brontes, this is absolutely the book to buy.
Ages 13-17 | Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. | April 1, 2013 (Paperback)
Lisa Catherine Harper is the author of the award-winning memoir, A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood and co-editor, with Caroline Grant, of The Cassoulet Saved our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area and is not sending her kids to horse camp this year. Visit: http://www.lisacatherineharper.com
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