Tuesday 6 June 2023

Review: JOSEPHINE - Six Ponies

Six Ponies is this week's book. It has a special place in many people's hearts: firstly it is Josephine's first book (published in 1946) and secondly it is the first in the ever popular West Barsetshire series, or more commonly known as the "Noel and Henry" series. For this reason I have labelled as both.

Six Ponies is a rather long book, and when Collins republished it under their Pony Library series, and also Armada and Swift, they cut it quite significantly. Consequently, until recently, a first edition with full text and original illustration had been quite hard and expensive. Fortunately, Fidra Books in 2007 in their wisdom have republished it in it's entirety. In 2019 Jane Badger also released it in it's entirety meaning that now everyone can have a full story at a reasonable price.

The edition I have used in this review is the Fidra one (the one with the blue border). If anyone is unfamiliar with Fidra's style, they always have some sort of introduction, where possible, it is written by the author. Sadly due to Josephine's ill health she could not complete one, although she has written one for Fidra's other works: We Met Our Cousins and London Pride (by their mother: Joanna Cannan). So before the main story there is a short biography by Vanessa Robertson (owner of Fidra) and an article about the "Noel and Henry" series by Jane Badger (of Jane Badger books).

I will deal with the article first, then the story.

The article begins with a bit of social history about riding in the 1920's and the 1930's, useful as most people reading any P-T books (and even some of Joanna Cannan's books) will be unfamiliar with "backwards" seat, as they have never seen it. This is often referred to in the P-T's early works, particularly Josephine's. It also details many influential books, particularly Equitation, a book by Henry Wynmalen (ironically enough they appeared an 1941 edition of Riding Magazine describing a pony called Cocktail which Henry Wynmalen also wrote an article comparing the car and the horse). This book greatly influenced the P-T sisters.

The article goes on to describe the book's characters, not only their riding but also their temperament. Not just in Six Ponies, but throughout the whole series.

It also compares other well known books, and also the schooling side of things: Josephine's books are (with a couple of exceptions) famous for being instructional. Jane comments:

"However, although pony books can easily turn into didactic tomes (J M Berrisford's A Pony In The Family bieng an example of the didactic unrelieved by either humour or plot) there is more than enough wit and character in the Noel and Henry books to make them eminently readable: we can appreciate Noel's improvement without understanding precisely how she does it."

The entire article can be found on Jane's website (link on the right if viewing this on a PC or tablet). 

The blurb reads (of the Fidra Books edition):-

When six members of the West Barsetshire Pony Club each take on the challenge of breaking in a New Forest Pony they have little idea of what they will encounter. They have to teach them to wear a saddle and bridle, to carry a rider, to jump fences and behave quietly in traffic. Then, they have to ride them in a competition to see who has done the best. Who will do the best? June Cresswell who has an expensive pony and rides in every competition: John who has no-one to help him; the Radcliffes who shout and quarrel and live in the whirl of their huge family; Susan who has a groom and hardly looks after her pony herself; or shy, dreamy Noel? The first book in Josephine Pullein-Thompson's series about the West Barsetshire Pony Club, Six Ponies introduces some of her most memorable characters and brilliantly captures the highs and lows of schooling a young pony.

and the Armada (second image) edition's blurb reads:-

Six New Forest ponies to break in and school with a year to do it in! The members of the Pony Club can hardly believe their luck when Major Holbrooke chooses them for the job.

Besides the excitement of gymkhanas, rallies and paperchases, this is an added challenge. Will they have enough spirit and determination to tackle it? Their enthusiasm sometimes wears think with bolting ponies, refusals and even broken bones.

Yet by the year's end, the children have gained the upper hand, and their six perfectly-schooled ponies are the envy of all!

The other books in the Noel and Henry/West Barsetshire Pony Club series are: The Radney Riding Club, Pony Club Team, One Day Event and Pony Club Camp. The books Pony Club Cup,
Pony Club Challenge and Pony Club Trek do not belong to this series: instead they belong to a different Pony Club (see Woodbury Pony Club tag).

This book was Josephine's first solo book and is widely regarded to be one of her best.
It's good that the publishers have decided to republish it again, this one is in it's entirety, as unfortunately all paperback editions prior to this were drastically cut. Who can argue when the only other way to get the full story, was to purchase a first edition, which is considerably more expensive than this one.
It's the story of 6 children who are given 6 young ponies to train, with a competition at the end to see who has trained them the best. The author is well known for combining training instructions, with stories about ponies, and this one does not disappoint. The trials and tribulations of training youngsters is a key part to the story, but there are some incidents there to give some humour (such as when the pony steals the apples off the greengrocer's cart).

That's not to say that the characters do not have their faults. The first Pony Club Rally (which sets the scene) the children are useless. When they are told that six ponies are to broken in by members of the Pony Club there is much criticism of each other (both by members and their mothers) over who is going to ruin their pony. This turns quite catty at times. It makes not the easiest of reading for some people. 

Although originally written over 50 years ago, it's appeal has not been lost, and should be on every pony mad girl's shelf, and every collector should have one on their shelf. Even if you aren't a pony mad girl (or a parent of one), it is written so wonderfully well that an adult who likes to train ponies should read this, although it is meant as a story the quality is so excellent it could be used as a training aid!
This book also has an introduction which covers the rest of the series, and details about the characters and the background to the book. An excellent read, and should be considered a great classic.

The ending is somewhat bittersweet but generally satisfying. I recommend getting an copy of this book, preferably the full text. 

Monday 20 September 2021

Review: CHRISTINE - The Pony Test

The Pony Test is the third book in the Sophy series. It was first published in 1997, 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:-

Sophy is about to take her D Test, the first test after joining the Pony Club. She wants to be better than anyone else, so she chooses some big thick books from the library and learns all about diseases and different saddles. However, when the day for the test arrives, nothing goes quite to plan.

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.

It is a moral tale that proves a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Sophy gets a bit too carried away by the test which has disastrous results. It shows a more depth than previous books and what one wouldn't expect from a short story. Sophy gets nerves and fails the test. But there is more to the story than that and you will have to read it for yourself. 

It's a good moralistic tale for a pony mad youngster and not terribly expensive when found. It's a little simple for the average adult but overall a decent yarn.

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Review: CHRISTINE - The Pony Picnic

The Pony Picnic is the fourth and final book in the Sophy series. It was first published in 1998, 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:-

Sophy is really looking forward to the pony picnic. She collects lot of important things she may need for the trip. But when she gets to the riding school the other riders, especially her rival Claire, makes fun of her overflowing rucksack.

However, by the end of the day everyone is very grateful indeed for Sophy was so well prepared...

The book is illustrated. It is illustrated by Gilly Markew. In the book there is a mixture of black and white illustrations. 

The book starts with Sophy getting very excited over a pony picnic and as the blurb suggests she packs a rucksack. It is interesting from these health and safety pov days as everything would be essential and unlike in the story Sophy wouldn't be laughed at. In the UK today there is a health and safety side of things with all matters equine - and not so equine - risk assessed.  But this book was published in the 1990s where it was not so health and safety.

But forget about the health and safety. Sophy has to deal with sadness - albeit brief - in this book. It's a more rounded book than the previous one.

I think that the average youngster would enjoy this book. It's not deep enough - or long enough- for the average older/adult reader though the signs are there. Personally speaking the Sophy series aren't my favourite but I am not the target audience. 

Monday 28 June 2021

Review: JOSEPHINE - Black Swift

Black Swift is this week's book. It was first published in 1991, and was the penultimate book she wrote.

The title causes some confusion, despite it's name it has nothing to do with the Black Beauty's relatives books which were published in the 1970s and 1980s. It has yet to be republished, so can only be found in this edition. However, like the Black Beauty's relatives books, it is told in the same style, which may or may not be a problem, depending if you like it or not.

The blurb reads:-

Born at Radstock Castle during the Civil War, Black Swift is the fastest filly in Sir Thomas Wakefield's stable. Taller and stronger then any horse in England, she is the first new breed with which her owner hopes to repair his battered fortunes. But before she can be put to the test, Black Swift is stolen by Bernard, Sir Thomas's younger son, and taken to the heart of the battlefield.

Written by the famous pony novelist, Josephine Pullein-Thompson this book brilliantly evokes the wild and lawless time that followed the war as well as the great spirit of hope that it brought forth.

Now I am not a big lover of pony point of view books as they seem to follow the Black Beauty stereotype. But I needn't have worried here. It follows the fortunes of Black Swift a mare during the English Civil War. Now living in Wales my school years history teaching were full of Welsh history and more modern history such as the Second World War and the Cold War. I am, it has said to be said a little bit lacking in the knowledge of the English Civil War. So I cannot comment on how accurate the portrayal of the War is in this book. 

It touches on the horrors of the war without being too bloody/violent. Certainly nothing to frighten you. But that doesn't glorify or gloss over the harsh reality: in the book both people and horses die. 

There is plenty of action in this book as barely a page goes by without some let alone a chapter. Though the main focus is on Black Swift it doesnt mean that the human characters are left out. Indeed, without giving too much of the story away they are indeed central.

All in all a satisfying book and the length is just right. I didnt get bored. The ending is somewhat bittersweet but satisfactory. If you're like me and don't generally like pony point of view books then I would highly recommend it. You  might be surprised. If you like history too then it's  a bonus. I think that to make what could be a borefest into an engaging and exciting book is down to Josephine herself as any of the lesser authors couldn't rise up to the challenge. The plot is generally quite good too.

Monday 30 September 2019

Review: CHRISTINE - The Horse Sale

The Horse Sale was first published in 1960, the same year as Ride By Night. The image to the left is of the first edition, which contains lovely drawings by Sheila Rose. This cover by many is considered to be one of the finest covers that Christine's ever had. Although it has been republished, to me, the two subsequent republications are not as good as this one.

The blurb reads:-

HORSE SALE: April 20th: Wetford Market.

What was the real meaning of this notice and who was going to be affected by it? Olga found to her horror that her beloved gelding Crusoe would have to go; how could she live without him? And the Riding School decided to send it's newest horse, Jupiter. But apart from the inevitable buying and selling what was special about this sale on April 20th? What it to be a day only of broken hearts and empty paddocks?

"Everyone seems to be here," thought Olga, as she gazed at Crusoe for what was probably the last time. And everybody was there - some to buy, some to sell and some to watch. And the outcome...Well Christine Pullein-Thompson surprises us all at the last moment, and you are sure to be amazed at what happens at the end of that extraordinary day.

It is told from the perspective of several characters all of which are going to be heavily effected by the sale. The majority of the characters do not want the sale as the effects are negative on their lives. But Christine has done a few characters whose sale is a positive one. It's a wonderful telling of yin and yang for every negative there is a positive.

There's 12 chapters in my edition which is the first edition. The first chapter sets out the characters of the story which is well written and sets the scene. The majority of the story is all about the preparation of the characters for the sale which is as equally well written. The last few chapters are taken up with the sale and it's effects on the characters concerned both during and after the sale.

It's one of Christine's best works. It's one that explores relationships both horse and human but mostly human. Like all good books everything works out ok in the end but not in a predictable way. The only thing that dates it is one character tries to sell a fridge these days it wouldn't work as due to the way modern life is people wouldn't survive without at the very least a fridge. But we can forgive this little foible.

If you aren't bothered about edition this book isnt terribly hard to find. I urge you to try and read this for the description of characters makes it well worth reading.

Saturday 30 June 2018

Review: CHRISTINE - We Rode To The Sea

We Rode To The Sea is this week's book. It is Christine's first solo book, and was first published in 1948; two years after It Began With Picotee.

The red bound cover is rather a strange one, it is an Collins Crown Library edition. Nobody quite knows it's origin, but it is the only P-T book to have this treatment. Monica Edwards' books Wish For A Pony and The Summer of the Great Secret have these editions. However, this one is dated 1949, the same as the regular first edition. I thought it may be because it originally cost a crown, but my mother says that it would have been an extremely expensive book so that theory is out of the window. Especially considering that Britain had only just come out of the second world war only 3 years ago, and was still on rationing. One theory is that it was a cheap edition of the first edition. I cant tell you how much this originally cost, as mine has been price clipped.

Anyway, the blurb reads:-

The scatterbrained MacGregors set out with five horses and a dog for a riding tour in the Highlands. They lose maps, money and tempers and become involved in a chase after two prisoners. They camp in the glens, eat oatcakes in crofters' kitchens, and at last, coming down the trees, they see the open sea.

If you had not guessed, this book is set primarily in Scotland, a theme similarly replicated in her mother's book We Met Our Cousins (first published in 1937). Interestingly, all editions bar this one and the more commonly seen first edition, have an rather interesting introduction, which reads:-

"Come on," I cried with mad impatience. "What did you see?"
"I saw," said Duncan slowly, "two Germans riding two horses - our horses - Harvester and Landslide. Now can you understand my rage?"

The Macgregors were on a riding tour in the highlands. The war was just over; but food was rationed and escaped German prisoners lurked in the hills. Seven pounds was enough for a holiday for four people, a dog and five horses in those far off years when a loaf of bread could be bought for twopence three farthings. But Alister's wallet vanished and the map was lost and all their watches shopped, while the Macgregors pursued the Germans from glen to glen until they met at last, face to fact on the cliffs above the sea.

This was my first book. Life was different when I wrote it. Horses still travelled on trains in special trucks, and the carriages were full of soldiers and sailors and nearly everything was rationed. It is the book which made my name. I hope you enjoy it.

Christine Pullein-Thompson

It is the only P-T book (and certainly the only Christine one) that features an introduction. Even the Collins Pony Library edition (second picture) features that.

This is a general adventure rather like the later Ride By Night. It's told from the prospective of Hughneena Macgregor. They certainly seem patriotic with references to Scotland a lot throughout the book, with the term "By the blighted hopes of Scotland" used a lot.  It's perhaps the least horsey of CPT's books save her non horsey ones.

Despite this I enjoyed it. The Macgregors have a lot of misfortune including as the blurb suggested losing maps. It's an enjoyable read despite the lack of horsey action. What got me is the wonderful description of the Highlands despite never visited I felt as though I was there. This is due to the PTs excellent writing. Despite everything going wrong I never felt frustrated. This is a excellent read which I never found boring and would recommend to a modern reader. The only thing that dates it is the fact that horses travel by train in the beginning of the book. This is never done these days and thanks to Doctor Beeching there are fewer railway stations than the time that CPT was writing. If you don't like general horsey adventures and generally avoid this I urge you to read this: you may be pleasantly surprised.

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.