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.