Kid's Stuff -- Books About Horses & Ponies
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C. W. Anderson and the "Billy & Blaze" books -- see author profile


"Keeker And The Sneaky Pony"
Written by Hadley Higgenson
Illustrated by Maja Anderson
(Chronicle Books, 2006)

We were looking for some beginning chapter-books that were reasonably intelligent, nonviolent, not filled with weird messages, unpleasant behavior, violence or issue-oriented anxieties... The Keeker series was perfect, about a bright-eyed, sometimes silly little girl nicknamed Keeker who lives on a farm with her parents and various animals, including a mischievous Shetland pony named Plum. Keeker has some of the same wide-eyed, innocent rambunctiousness that made the Beverly Cleary heroines so much fun, and is a likeable, if relatively uncomplicated, character. The whole owning-your-own-pony thing may make her a "rich" kid for many readers, but the series tries to minimize her privilege by contrasting her to wealthier, less sympathetic brats (like the boastful Tifani, in The Horse Show Show Off). It's also nice that the introductory text goes out of its way to tell us that Keeker is an only child: nice affirmation for those who haven't gone down the multi-child path. In this first book, we meet Keeker and her new pony, Plum, who is kind of cantankerous. The story revolves around that eternal pet/human question: who is training whom? Nice, simple, direct prose... No violence, nothing weird and no unfortunate racial/cultural/gender faux pas. Whew. The clean-lined artwork by Maja Anderson is very precise and deceptively "simple" looking... She gets a surprising level of subtlety into her work, and lots of humor. All in all, a fine first book in a promising, enjoyable series. (B)


"Keeker And The Horse Show Show Off"
Written by Hadley Higgenson
Illustrated by Maja Anderson
(Chronicle Books, 2006)

In this episode, Keeker and Plum enter their first horse show, and even though Plum thinks it's totally silly, she rallies to the cause when a competing pony gives her a little nip on the nose. Keeker's nemesis is a snotty rich kid named Tifani, who brags about all the ribbons she's won, and makes Keeker feel insecure because she doesn't have a bunch of fancy stuff and hasn't won any prizes. (Yet...!) There's a truly golden moment when Tifani shows off while riding past the judges -- artist Anderson draws just the perfect little asinine smile on her face, just before the spill she and her horse take on the next page, because the horse misunderstood Tifani's shifting her body to look over at the judge's panel. I kinda wish Keeker hadn't amazingly, stupendously won first place, but what the heck? She's our hero, right? A fun read, nice clean plot. Love the art. (B+)


"Keeker And The Sugar Shack"
Written by Hadley Higgenson
Illustrated by Maja Anderson
(Chronicle Books, 2006)

Keeker becomes obsessed with a mysterious old lady who has bought a nearby abandoned farmhouse: surely she must be a witch! Plum has to put up with Keeker's wild imagination, and there's more overt slapstick than in the previous volumes. Mostly just silly... and I mean that in a good way. (B)


"Keeker And The Springtime Surprise"
Written by Hadley Higgenson
Illustrated by Lisa Perrett
(Chronicle Books, 2006)

Keeker's ten years old now, and the plot's a bit more complicated... It's springtime, all the animals are having babies, and Keeker wants to protect the groundhog pups that her dad plans to chase out of the horse pasture... The plan she comes up with to save them is straight out of I Love Lucy: she decides to stage a "play" with Plum as her co-star, and after her parents are blown away by the production, she'll make her pitch for the groundhogs to stay... The trouble is, Keeker can't get her parents to pay attention to anything she says, as they are absorbed by the upcoming birth of a new foal. Turns out foals are pretty cool, and when the birth finally happens, Keeker is wowed by it. This one was a bit denser than the earlier volumes and didn't read as easily... my kid's attention definitely wandered while we read it. I kinda miss Maja Anderson's artwork, too, but the new artist is okay. (C+)


"Keeker And The Pony Camp Catastrophe"
Written by Hadley Higgenson
Illustrated by Lisa Perrett
(Chronicle Books, 2006)

The Keeker series gets back to its horsey roots with this tale of Keeker spending a summer at pony camp... Her old nemesis Tifani reappears, as one of her bunkmates in the beginner's hut, but a couple of years makes a big difference, even for spoiled brats, and now Tifani is actually quite nice. Along with their new pal, Virginia, the girls find themselves bored with beginning horse riding, but of course circumstances lead to more excitingstuff, and all three girls -- and their ponies -- have a grand old time. A strong entry in the series. (B)


"My Pony"
Written by Susan Jeffers
Illustrated by Susan Jeffers
(Hyperion, 2001)

This one's a classic -- the ultimate little-girls-love-ponies book! Written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers, and based on her own childhood, this tells the story of a young girl who dreams of owning a pony, but is told by her parents that horses are too expensive, and that they can't keep one at their house. So she creates a dream pony named Silver, who she rides to a horse-filled fantasyland, whenever she likes. The story is great, but the artwork is fantastic, evoking beauty and wonder... and, boy, does Jeffers know how to draw horses! Her work is consistently enchanting, but this book is her masterpiece... A real delight and a longtime favorite around our house. (A++)


"The Mare On The Hill"
Written by Thomas Locker
Illustrated by Thomas Locker
(Dial Books, 1985)

A marvelous story about two boys living on a farm who are given a skittish mare to tame... She's been abused by a previous owner and is shy of humans, so they let her out into a far pasture and gently, patiently woo her into trusting them and coming into the corral by the time winter hits. The first-person narration gives us a sense of the decency and kindness of the boys, and paints a beautiful picture of their intuitive, caring style of animal husbandry. The illustrations -- luminous, evocative oil paintings by Mr. Locker -- capture the closeness between farmers and the natural world... Some readers might find this a bit fusty and old-fashioned, but that's one of the reasons I really loved it. Went over well with the little one, too, the first couple of times we read it, though it didn't have the sort of readthatagain-ishness as a more cartoonish, more modern book. Still, for horse lovers, this one is a must. (A)


"Giddy-Up! Let's Ride!"
Written by Flora McDonnell
Illustrated by Flora McDonnell
(Candlewick, 1999)

Horsies, camels, donkeys and elephants all get the big, bold Flora McDonnell treatment, with colorful, plus-sized, double-page spreads and cheerful art. The text didn't do much for me, but as a visual presentation this is pretty striking. (B-)


"One Horse Waiting For Me"
Written by Patricia Mullins
Illustrated by Patricia Mullins
(Simon & Schuster, 1998)

A beautifully illustrated counting book, with dreamy paper collages of horsies numbering one to twelve. I wouldn't say the text is particularly powerful, but the pictures are gorgeous. If you have a very young kid who really loves horses, you should consider tracking this one down -- it's aesthetically quite lovely. (B+)


"Clip-Clop"
Written by Nicola Smee
Illustrated by Nicola Smee
(Boxer Books, 2006)

A purely kinetic, cartoonish barnyard tale about a cat, a dog, a pig and a duck who go for a big ride on Mr. Horse's back. When Mr. Horse clipitty-clops a little too fast and they ask him to slow down, he skids to a halt and sends them flying into a nice, soft haypile. And what do they say next? "AGAIN!!" in big, bold 300-point type!!! Sure to strike a chord with many in the under-three age group, this is a nice, uncomplicated baby book... No deep thinking, but plenty of fun when read with gusto (and maybe a few choice sound effects...) Great for the littlest readers. (B+)


"Blue Horse"
Written by Helen Stephens
Illustrated by Helen Stephens
(Scholastic Books, 2003)

A shy little girl moves to a new neighborhood, but can't work up the courage to say "hi" to the kids she sees playing outside, and chooses instead to spend all her time with her toy Blue Horse... They have a rich fantasy life (some of it a bit on the weird side...) although Blue Horse seems to have an if-you-love-someone-set-them-free, nurturing streak and one day tells the little girl to work up her nerve and say hi to another girl they see playing in the park. Turns out the little girl also has a special friend, as do most of the other kids playground... The sentiment is nice and the artwork is bright and bold, but there are some clunky elements to the story; this one never really clicked with eother me or my kid. (C+)




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