Could there be a more enticing book cover than one showing shelves full of books? (I’d lose those Puffin picture books floating around at the top.) Studying the picture closely, as I have done, I’ve been surprised to find just how many of these books I’ve read and even owned at some time. For an un-horsy person I’ve certainly read a lot of pony books, so I’ve been keenly anticipating this book’s publication. I wasn’t disappointed.
Jane Badger is a pony book expert and dealer. Her website (see link on left) is a wonderful resource, with information on just about all the pony books ever written. She hasn’t set out to write academically on the subject; nevertheless the book is rigorously organised, based on wide knowledge and research, and includes some trenchant criticism. First she gives an overview of the history of the pony book, from the early, pony biography (e.g. Black Beauty), to instructional works, through the adventure stories of the pony book heyday from the thirties to the sixties, to modern series like The Saddle Club and the regrettable ‘pink and sparkly’ image given to the pony books of today.
A few authors get chapters to themselves, for example the Pullein-Thompson sisters, Ruby Ferguson and Monica Edwards. Much as I love Monica Edwards, I do think it’s cheating a little to include every book she wrote. If Edwards, why not Stephen Mogridge (a lesser writer, admittedly), whose New Forest series’ characters have many of their adventures while riding? K M Peyton is praised to the skies. I’m prepared to accept the opinion of almost everyone else that her books are wonderful but, sadly, she’s one of my blind spots; I just don’t like her books. The publishers, Girls Gone By, have been lavish with reproductions of book covers and text illustrations and there’s a chapter on the artists. I was pleased to see my own favourite, Anne Bullen, so esteemed. Her pictures of Tamzin and Cascade are so familiar to me they leap off the page. Pony magazines and annuals are also discussed; I can’t think of a topic Jane hasn’t covered. Heroines on Horseback, subtitled The Pony Book in Children’s Fiction, is as enjoyable to read as a good pony story and would appeal to anyone interested in children’s books. I heartily recommend it.
some of my pony books
My favourite pony books:
Anything by Monica Edwards, especially The Summer of the Great Secret
The Wednesday Pony, Primrose Cumming
We Couldn’t Take Dinah, Mary Treadgold
Jill’s Gymkhana, Ruby Ferguson
The Ten-Pound Pony, Veronica Westlake. This one is my utter favourite.
Everything I know about horses I learned from reading books like these. As you can tell from the list, for me a pony book has to be about more than ponies. Jane takes the same view, that the best pony books should have a strong sense of place and believable, likeable characters, both human and equine.