Saturday, 10 May 2008

Review: JOSEPHINE - All Change/The Hidden Horse

The Hidden Horse is this week's book. It was originally published as All Change, but was later retitled as The Hidden Horse. It was first published in 1961.

The blurb reads (taken from the first image, which is the first edition:-

THERE WAS NOT DOUBT at all, the Conway family decided, that that new owner of the Charnworth estate was going to be a thorough nuisance. Their father had been agent to Lord Charnworth for eight years and he had regarded them as part of the family, letting them ride over the whole place as if it had been their own. But with Mr. Smithson, the new owner, things were not going to be the same. The estate was going to be run on strictly business lines and there was not going to be any question of children getting in the way or breaking down fences or gates.

However the five Conways - plus their new friend Nick - manage to have an extremely adventurous beginning to the Christmas holidays. Their father had told Douglas on his first meeting back from school: 'A lot may depend on your behaviour these holidays'. As things turned out, a lot did depend on it!

and the blurb from The Hidden Horse (second image) reads:-

With their parents' tenanted farm under threat from a heartless new landowner, Douglas and this younger brothers and sisters secretly pool their savings to buy back a favourite Jersey cow from a local auction. But on the same day there just happens to be a horse sale, where, unknown to the others, Penny bids for a thin, fifteen hand thoroughbred mare...

The edition shown is a J A Allen edition, hence why the blurb is so short. As per usual with these editions, the majority of the back is taken up with information on the author (and in this case, her two sisters, brother and mother whose surname is mispelt Cannon).

This won an Ernest Benn award: this appears to be given by Ernest Benn (the original publishers) to the best book they published in a particular year. In this case it won the first prize in their Children's Book Competition.

Just a note: all editions except the first one have been revised. This is due to the fact that Josephine included the words "Jew boy", and "bloody" and depending on the publisher it varies what has been taken out. The J A Allen edition (second image) does include the words "bloody" but not Jew boy.

As for illustrations, the first edition contains illustrated by Sheila Rose. The J A Allen (second image) does not contain small illustrations, but they are not credited. These are completely different ones to the first edition.

The book begins with the sad, harsh reality of a death of the land's former owner, and how things are going to change. I can see why Josephine chose to use the (original) title of All Change, but I guess subsequent (re)publishers of this book wasn't pony enough, hence it's retitling.

Because of the sad, harsh reality they have to look at everything financially: the new landowner cares more about money. This leads to unpleasant comments, and the selling of their prizewinning cow (who belongs to the owner of the farm - not the Conways - who are the family in this story). Knowing that she will go for meat because of her age, the children make a plan to attend the auction & buy her back, and that is when they get the horse.

Like last week's offering, The No-Good Pony, this explores family relationships, but unlike The No-Good Pony, the family are not divorced. It does explore change: the lack of willingness of the farmer to change to factory farming, and the local villagers (especially the elderly) to more houses in the village, and the inclusion of central heating.

The only bit that I didn't get was why J A Allen didn't omit about Nick smoking, as smoking is very un-PC these days. As this edition was published in 1989, it seems a rather strange thing to include, especially as it is an children's book. Granted it is an older one (J A Allen suggest age 9-1 3 on the back), but still. It's not really a key element to this story.

I really liked this book. The sudden change of the way of life, not only to the main characters, but other farmers & the village is well thought out. There is an great episode where at the sale, a bull belonging to another farmer breaks out and causes great chaos in the local town!

This is perhaps the least horsey book out of Josephine's I feel, as although ponies are there, it is more of a farming story than a horsey one. Perhaps that is why it was retitled. But don't let that put you off: the standard of writing is extremely excellent (this is one of Josephine's better tales) and it is easy to see why this has won an Award.

A good book which shouldn't be missed.


Fiona said...

I think this is one of her very best books. It focusses on trust and change,and how life isn't constant.
I like the way it shows the adult world and that of children colliding; Josephine always portrays adults well and this particular book is no exception.
Strong characters are provided by the children's Father and Mother and the new land owner himself, who is seen as the "baddy" but redeems himself by the last pages.
It touches on anti-Semitism; my copy contains Jewboy but not bloody. Also it examines social class and deference.
I think it's a shame it was renamed "The Hidden Horse" as this forms only a very small part of the story.

Jane said...

I think this is one of my favourites of hers (if not my favourite - it's edging ahead of Pony Club Camp at the moment), so I agree with you about its excellence. The way she does the family is so wonderful: I think she's at her best with sibling portraits.

sharie said...

Ah you have reviewed one of my much loved books I read as a child.
Makes me wonder why I ever let them all go!