Sunday, 7 July 2013

REVIEW: Heroines on Horseback - Jane Badger

Heroines on Horseback is a book by Jane Badger. It was first published in 2013 by Girls Gone By.

The blurb reads:-

The pony book galloped onto the children's book scene with a flick of its rosetted bridle, and has remained a fixture ever since. Brave girls and nervous ones, scruffy ponies and ornaments of the show ring cantered through pony tale after pony tale, all fallen upon by an audience desperate to read anything that reflected their own passion for the pony.

Heroines on Horseback looks at the pony book from its beginning in the 1920s and 1930s to the glory days of the 1940s and 50s and beyond. The pony book expert Jane Badger writes about the lives and contribution of noted exponents, including Primrose Cumming, Monica Edwards, Patricia Leitch, Ruby Ferguson and the Pullein-Thompson sisters, as well as providing a wide-ranging view of the genre as a whole, its themes and developments, illustrators and short stories.

This book has a chapter devoted to the Pullein-Thompson sisters hence why it is on this blog. However I am not going to focus solely on the PT chapter, but a review of the book in general.

This book is ideal for anyone who is interested in the history of the pony book as it covers everything from the early days to the hey days of the pony book of the 1960s and the 1970s. It also covers major illustrators of the pony books. The book is also aimed at adults who want to relive their pony book days. It also covers British authors, which is not surprising as the author is based in the UK. However that's not to mean that the non UK authors are excluded, Elyne Mitchell (an Australian author) does get a mention.

I found it interesting and it gave a quick summary of some of the books without giving the plot away. The author has a knack of keeping the author interested without making the subject into a boring tome - something which could be easily done. The only downside is that it skimmed through the more modern stuff (1990s onwards), briefly giving them a mention. I felt as though they werent given the same time to the book. Perhaps the author simply ran out of room - after all you cant fit everything into a book. Though admittedly there are new pony authors coming out all the time. The major authors (Pullein-Thompsons, K M Peyton) are covered along with lesser authors such as Patience McElwee (though like modern books they arent all covered). Judith M Berrisford (who wrote the longest running pony book series) is another author who is barely covered. However the author has a superb website which is full of biographical information of many authors - I suspect that she didnt want to reiterate what is available essentially for free thus making the book redundant.

The Pullein-Thompson chapter is very informative and full of a wealth of information about the sister, including little known gems. It focuses on their works up until 1970, which means that later books such as the later Phantom Horse series, A Job With Horses (Josephine) are largely forgotten about. It also contains a review of the Black Beauty Family's series by Susanna Forest (author of If Wishes Were Horses).

It makes you want to buy many authors that you missed out as the author of the book has a knack of describing hidden gems.

There was a couple of things that I didnt like. Personally I didnt like the yellow on the front cover, I felt cream or something more neutral would have been more appropriate. Also I didnt like the fact that covers of pony book depicted internally where in black and white - I would prefer them in colour. I suspect that both decisions were taken by the publisher rather than the author however. The black and white does fit in however with the illustrations, of which they are plenty and sympathetically chosen to display what the author is trying to convey. Similarly the quotes of the various pony books are well chosen and fit with what the author is trying to convey well.

It is a well written book and definitely worth the money paid for it. Despite my criticisms, I highly recommend it. Heroines on Horseback is available through Amazon, abebooks, Girls Gone By, Waterstones (at least online, I dont know about their physical stores) as well as through the author's own website (link below). If you order through Jane herself she will sign it for you at no extra cost. (Mine is!),+jane&searchby=author&offset=0&fs=1

An interesting personal note is that I am mentioned in the acknowledgement section by name. Obviously I am not going to put my real name on a public blog, but my initials are DH. If you own such a copy you will work it out yourself.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Review: CHRISTINE - The Best Pony For Me!

The Best Pony For Me! is the second book in the Sophy series. It was first published in 1995, making it one of the last books she wrote.

Because of the short nature of the series (there are only about 46 pages) and the fact it is aimed at young children than most of Christine's books, there is a great difficulty in reviewing this book without giving away the story.

The blurb reads:-

When Sophie hears about the Horse Show, she begs to be allowed to ride Honey Bee, the best pony in the riding school. But instead of Honey Bee she is given a dull old plodder called Mousie. Sophie desperately wants to win first prize - but how can Mousie ever help her to achieve her dream?

Again, like The Doping Affair (to be covered at a later date), there is a spelling mistake, the blurb spells it Sophie, however for the rest of the series and internally, this book is spelt Sophy. This is the hardback edition, I do not know if it was correct for the paperback edition.

But anyway back to the story. To be honest, I much preffered this to I Want That Pony! It begins to show a little bit more of a human side, and less cardboard cut out  person. Though there are still limitations due to the short nature of the book, so we still don't see a great deal of depth to the characters. We are introduced to Claire, Sophy's enemy, and we get to see Mrs Mills, an riding school owner, both of which appear in subsequent books. Tabby, a kitten who we were introduced to in the previous book has now grown up to become a cat, proving that is there some sort of time line in the books, which the Candy series was lacking.

To be honest, there is a moralistic side to this tale. Sophy wins through because she puts in the practice and has determination. Which is I feel is what Christine is trying to portray. I feel as though she is making a good effort, but to be honest the "always be good" attitude is side tracking from this book. I dont feel it is strictly necessary, and to be honest is not included in her earlier books. In some ways it could be considered preaching, and preaching is not something which is great in a pony book. It doesnt stick in the back of your throat like The Boy Who Came To Stay (DPT) does, but it is not a great quality in a pony book. But DPT was after all, writing for a religious publisher.

I don't think this is Christine's greatest series. I think this was sold on the fact "because it's CPT and her books always sell" rather than it's merit. But after all, it is a brave effort because in the St James Guide To Children's  Writers (1999; fifth edition) she did admit that she felt out of touch with teenagers and that is why she wrote for younger children in her latter years. Rather than admit defeat and stop writing she simply changed her format. Which proved that CPT knew her market well, and hence we have these books today.

The book is illustrated. It is illustrated by Peter Clover, and an example of an illustration is below. In the book there is a mixture of black and white illustrations.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Review: CHRISTINE - I Want That Pony!

I Want That Pony! is the first in the book in the Sophy series. It was first published in 1993, making it one of the last books she wrote. It is also quite a hard to find book, and is the hardest to find in the series.

Because of the short nature of the series (there are only about 46 pages) and the fact it is aimed at young children than most of Christine's books, there is a great difficulty in reviewing this book without giving away the story.

The blurb reads:-

Sophy is desperate to own Flash, the pony that lives down the lane. But Flash already has an owner: he belongs to Alison, who loves her pony very much, and would never dream of selling him. Who will win the battle over Flash?

Sophy is the ultimate 8 year old dream, although pony less, she is inevitably pony mad. She thinks she has it all, a pony who loves her, although she has it all spoilt by Alison, Flash's true owner.  Because of this I think it is more aimed at the average 8 year old who wants to read it alone rather than the pony book buying adult or the pony book collector.

Like the Candy series, there is not much depth to the characters due to the short nature of the story. We do see a bit more character in the main person than in the Candy series, but not enough to go into deep depths. A lot of it is due to the short nature of the books, and consequently of the series in general.

To be honest, I find this book hard to review. Why? Because of the ending. It feels like Sophy is being rewarded for doing bad things i.e. lying to her parents and also feeding another pony, which is an ultimate no-no.  She gets rewarded by having riding lessons, rather than being left to stew and reflect of her own actions.

Unlike the Candy series, there is a moralistic point of view across this book, and the whole of the series in general. However unlike the Candy series there is an enemy in the form of Alison, Flash's true owner, and without giving the book away (or indeed the series), there is an enemy throughout subsequent books.

I apologise somewhat for making comparisons with the Candy series, but I found this hard to review.  I find that comparison with the Candy series an direct, fair and accurate one, because they are both more firmly aimed at the same market ie children and not adults. They are both aimed at the 8 year old.

The book is illustrated. It is illustrated by Gilly Markew, and an example of an illustration is below. In the book there is a mixture of black and white illustrations. I find Gilly Markew's illustrations nicely drawn, well thought out and relevant to the bits of the story she is trying to portray.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Review: CHRISTINE - Sundance Saves The Day

Sundance Saves the Day is this week's book. It is one of Christine's latter books, as it was first published in 1997. It is not generally well known about, as it was sold only by Julip.

Julip is a model horse company, which has been going since 1945. (That is a year before the Pullein-Thompsons first published It Began with Pictoee). The first Julips were made out of leather, however in the 1950s, they changed their method to making horses out of latex. (Yes, Julips are always referred to as horses). In 1989, Julip started a new series called "Horse of The Year", which was made out of plastic, and these are the sorts of horses featured on the cover. In the 1990s, Julip must have asked Christine to write a book featuring the then current range, hence why Sundance Saves The Day exists. For those of you unfamiliar with the names of the horses: Sundance is the palomino on the cover, Jigsaw is the skewbald (brown and white) and Midnight is the black on the cover. There is a another horse which is not pictured which is featured, called Silver Cloud, which is a a grey horse (pictured below).

Julip have never sold their horses in major stores; though they had a store in London until 1996. They also must have sold horses in Hamleys and Harrods at one point: there are horses which come with special rugs emblazoning the company about. Until a couple of years ago, the only way to get Julip horses (and other stuff they used to sell, such as grooming kits for real horses, jodhpurs and even riding hats) was to order through a catalogue. So really, this accounts for it being quite a rareish book, because unless you happen to have a Julip catalogue, you wouldnt know about this. Here is an example of the advert.

Anyway, back to the book. The blurb reads:-

'Suddenly the others were all around Mandy and Midnight, throwing themselves off their mounts and saying things like "Oh no! How could it happen?" And, "Why didn't you see the hole?" And, "Is he going to be all right?" And, "What about you Mandy?" And Midnight was standing with his head down, a pathetic object who held up his poor, right foreleg as though it were broken.
"I think we need a vet," suggested Jack in a sombre voice.
"We're not having him shot, even if it is broken," cried Nicky, "Because breaks can be mended. We all know that."
Now they were all suddenly deadly calm, while their horses blew through their noses and warm steam rose from their backs.....'

Sundance, Jigsaw, Midnight and Silver Cloud arrive with their riders Sarah, Jack, Mandy and Nicky to take part on a 20 mile sponsored ride. They have all worked hard finding sponsors and they are raising money for needy children in faraway lands. Spirits are high. But after a few miles their adventures begin. Enthusiasm and excitement turn to panic and disappointment and a long gruelling day lies ahead.

The characters in this book are based on the Julip model ponies and their riders.

Firstly, whoever wrote this blurb is obviously not knowledgeable: Julips regardless of their size are never referred to as ponies.

The subject of sponsored pony rides has never been a popular one: I can only think of one other example which is Bobbie's Sponsored Ride by Justine Furminger. This book is aimed at a much younger audience than many of CPT's book, though it is meant for older readers than the Candy or Sophy series. I would suggest an 9-12 year old.

Though it is hardly one of CPT's best, all the blame must not be put on CPT however. The names are a bit clunky in places. However as CPT did not choose the names, but instead she based it on the (then) current Julip range. It is worth pointing out that all the characters (horses and people) with the exception of Mrs Spencer, Mrs Walker and Desmond were available to buy from Julip. 

Like the Candy series, or rather specifically Candy Stops A Train, there are no anti heroes, no real enemies. However unlike the Candy series there is drama, though it is not a great deal of depth. However Sundance Saves The Day is hardly one of CPT's lengthier reads: it only totals 92 pages.

For me it didnt set the world on fire, it is a pleasant enough read, but the lack of depth meant that there was no real warmness to the characters. This story didnt make me warm to them, I didnt really care. Midnight has an accident during the story (the single most important bit of drama to the story, which is given away by the blurb), I didnt show great empathy for the characters. Because it is a younger children's story I just knew that everything would be alright. Because CPT doesnt do death (DPT did) and because of the age range I knew Midnight would survive. Death is always harrowing in pony books, and because of this, it is never tackled in this age range. Quite rightly it should be harrowing, but I feel that (aside from the fact that CPT doesnt do 
death) CPT felt it was too much for the age range the book was aimed at to take it all in. Pony books at this age range are still supposed to encourage you with adventure, not the nitty gritty of life.  But that is all very well the single pivotal episode of this story was tinged with "we know that everything is going to be alright and Midnight will be not shot". 

Everything does flow along nicely though, and with the exception of the naming issue, is hardly jerky. In short, it is a inoffensive story, which is in the middle. Not one of CPT's worst books, but certainly not the best. Hats off it must be said to CPT, who has tackled, in what must be said a valiant effort a subject which is hardly written about much; that is the sponsored ride. It is also must be commended for having the spirit to tackle characters and ponies which she hasnt had to make up herself, in essence they were given on a plate, because she had to deal with characters and concepts which werent her own. I am not entirely sure whether or not that made CPT's life easier or harder. But commendation has to be said for Julip's owner for at the time, for getting a worthwhile and highly talented writer,  rather than a writer who I feel would not be up to the job because they wouldnt have had the sheer scope and history that CPT has (the only other author I feel would be up to the job - with the exception of DPT and JPT - is K M Peyton). For that has to be a high recommendation, rather than the owner going for a more modern and less than capable author. Pony books were going strong, and the amount of pony book author still around at the time was more numerous than today.

It is illustrated by Mark Smallman. The illustrations are possibly the worst out of all the CPT books, they are rough outlines. Consquently there are not much style and substance to them at all. They are simply lines, in some ways glorified stickmen. They are IMO, slapdash and a little amateurish.Not the best illustration to grace a pony book.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Review: CHRISTINE - Candy Goes To The Gymkhana

Candy Goes To the Gymkhana is part of the Candy series. It is not to be confused with Pony seekers series by Diana, which is sometimes called the Candy series.

It was first published in 1989 and are aimed at a much younger age group than the majority of Christine's books. Consequently, there are not many pages. There is no definitive start to the series, so it does not matter which one you read first: the other is Candy Stops A Train.

It is illustrated however, by Gavin Rowe. 

The blurb reads:-

When they hard that there is going to be a local gymkhana, the Fraser children decide to enter their pony, Candy. They spend the next few weeks preparing for their events.

On the great day they set out with high hopes of winning. But they soon find out that winning isn't everything...

Like Candy Stops a Train, the biggest drawback is  the lack of depth to the characters due to lack of pages. However there is slightly more emotion, and an enemy of sorts, so you get a more in depth perspective of the family's life. The situation is more believable than Candy Stops a Train, and for me, a more enjoyable read.

Though the main focus is the day out in the gymkhana, at least with this one you do a more satisfying story, as there is sufficient build up to the main day as well, and a better build up in general than a simple lack of depth story as I felt Candy Stops A Train was.

Again, it's not one of CPT's best, although it is perfectly acceptable for an average 8 year old. As an adult, though it is generally better and more believable than Candy Stops A Train, the sheer lack of depth to the story (due to lack of pages) means it is highly unlikely to appeal to the average person. Best left as a set completer (i.e. you want every single CPT pony story going) rather than an integral part of the collection.

As for the illustrations, despite it being published in the same year, Paperbird (the publishers) have decided to go with another illustrator: Gavin Rowe. The illustrations  I feel are not as good as Terry Gabbey's, they seem more scruffy and rough edged somehow. Whereas there are none that could be called spectacularly bad, and they all fit nicely, when compared to Terry Gabbey's they all lack that final spit and polish. Perhaps it is to do with Gavin Rowe's style, which is slightly different to Terry Gabbey's.  But that is all subjective.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Review: CHRISTINE - Candy Stops A Train

Candy Stops A Train is part of the Candy series. It is not to be confused with Pony Seekers series by Diana, which is sometimes called the Candy series.

It was first published in 1989 and are aimed at a much younger age group than the majority of Christine's books. Consequently, there are not many pages. There is no definitive start to the series, so it does not matter which one you read first: the other is Candy Goes To The Gymkhana.

This book is illustrated by a Terry Gabbey.

The blurb reads:-

When Liz, Neil and Vicky Fraser discover that the family pony, Candy, is missing from her paddock, little do they know what a frantic race against time lies in store for them...

There is a reference in this book to Good Riding, a non fictional work which is conveniently written by Christine. 

As for the book, well it doesn't set the world on fire. Christine wrote much later in her life stories for younger children (the pony book series Sophy; the non pony series Ben are two examples), and none were a huge hit. The lack of pages means that there is a lack of depth into the characters. There is no readily identifiable characters, no anti heroes, or people you want to throttle which are found in most of her other books. The characters here seem to have no faults other than Mrs Fraser, who lack of concern about her children's safety (considering the children are hardly old enough to be left alone), means that she leaves them alone. But that is often a cliché of pony books, that the children can have an adventure without needing the parents, who often disappear in the first few pages, or are absent entirely from the book. There is a brief appearance of a Mrs Simpkins, but to be honest the character is unimportant to the story, and so makes no difference to whether or not she was in it. The children seem to get on very nicely, with no outright displays of emotion, other than slight concern for their lost pony's whereabouts.

Still, it is a uncomplicated tale, which will appeal to most children. If you are looking for an ideal tale to read to your 8 year old, then you cant go far wrong with this offering. It's a more traditional tale, and not an expensive one either. It does make a change than modern fantasy based offerings. If you are an adult collector, then it's not too much of a hardship leaving this off your shelves, and going with Christine's other more older (both in terms of when she wrote and what age range) tales, which are more likely to enthral you.

The illustrations by Terry Gabbey are all very nicely painted, and clearly has a keen eye for horses. Yes they are not in the league of the greats, such as Lionel Edwards, Anne Bullen or Sheila Rose, but fit the story well, and on the whole, well executed.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Review: ALL THREE - Fair Girls and Grey Horses

Fair Girls and Grey Horses: Memories of a country childhood is really their second collective work, as the first was It Began with Picotee. However, unlike It Began With Picotee, this is an non fictional work. It is actually an autobiography, with all 3 sisters contributing to every chapter. This is actually a different style to It Began With Picotee, which works much better I think. However, it does lead to some duplication.

It was first published in 1996, 50 years after the publication of It Began with Picotee. The scan is of an paperback edition, which has the same cover as the hardback edition. There is also a large type edition and an audio book version (sadly, not read out by the sisters).

This book is not aimed at children, more like adult collectors or people have who have read their books as a child and are now grown up. It is not illustrated.

The blurb reads:-

'Are your twins normal?' Mrs Pullein-Thompson was asked. 'Good God, I hope not,' she retorted.

The twins were Diana and Christine who, with their elder sister Josephine, have written 150 books, which have sold in millions around the world. Now, over 50 years after the publication of their first book, It Began with Picotee, the sisters have jointly written about their extraordinary childhood with lovable but often unreliable animals and unforgettable humans.

It also mentions quite frequently their brother Denis Cannan, and their father, Cappy, of which little is known about, at least in comparison to the sisters (and their mother). It begins with some family history.

Although not meant to be funny, there are some. One particular incident is when Josephine writes "He also had an embarrassing habit of knocking the hats off men who failed to remove them for the National Anthem" when talking about how Cappy was fiercely patriotic. Also they (the sisters) had euphemisms brought by their Victorian Nana, and the confusions/chaos it sometimes caused led to some amusing incidents.

There are a few adult references, but not as much as the non pony work, A Place With Two Faces (Josephine), but the general tone would make it boring for children. There are some incidents about animals (not necessarily about horses) which provide some amusement. Some events which happened in their life did actually appear in their (or their mother's) books, though the names had been changed.

Three are also some sample of poems which have yet to appear in any other book, which gives a fascinating insight into their fruitful literary career, especially as most of them were written before the publication of It Began With Picotee. There are also some photos of their childhood.

In some ways, it shows (despite their lack of formal education) the forward-thinking of their Mamma (Joanna Cannan). Although she did send them to school at some point, she insisted that they only attended half a day, because she "believed children should enjoy their childhood", a fact that is sadly lacking these days.

All in all, a humorous book, and completely utterly enjoyable. However for me, the greatest disappointment was the fact that there was not a complete bibliography of their works included. Admittedly, Christine did write several books after this was first published. You notice to the right there is the link to the Wikipedia article which has all the books listed, but that was done by me, following many hours of research. If that was included, it would have made my life much easier. Completely and utterly fascinating, though sadly there is not much about the riding school that they owned.