Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Judging by a Cover

I picked up this copy of Maia Wojciechowska's A Kingdom in a Horse for $5 at Tractor Supply the other day. The cover, from the 2012 Sky Pony Press edition, caught my attention. I figured the book was about a young boy having a conflict with an unruly horse with bad mane hair.

Since I'm a fan of middle grade and YA lit, I figured I'd like the book.

I actually did like the book very much, but this cover was misleading. For one thing, the horse in the book is a different color and has a different face. Didn't the cover artist read the book? Or the one-sentence synopsis: "A chestnut mare bought by an elderly widow at auction makes a great difference in the lives of her new owner and a bitter young neighbor." The horse on the cover is either faded black or dark brown.

The horse described in the book is a chestnut with a "wide white mark running from her eyes and narrowing slightly at the nostrils" (p.17). The dark horse on the cover only has a star. While the mare in the book has a mane that's been badly cut, the Mohawk-ish mane on the cover looks badly Photoshopped (the halter strap disappears into the wild hair, but doesn't seem to flatten it). The bright chestnut color of the horse is made clear in many passages, such as this one on page 75: "She could see her horse lying down in the grass, its eyes shut to the rays of the sun. She smiled at the big copper body on the field of green in the pasture."

Here's the back-cover description of the plot:
David Earl is twelve years old and disappointed in his father Lee, a once-famous rodeo clown who has quit the circuit and moved David to a small town in Vermont to start a new life. David has a hard time adjusting to life as a “normal” boy and is hurt that his father never allowed him the chance to be his partner in the rodeo arena. When Lee tries to buy David a horse at auction, David pretends to have no interest in it, and the horse is sold to the elderly and widowed Sarah Tierney. 
Sarah, grief-stricken at the death of her husband, tries to find solace in her new horse, Gypsy, but she needs help from the Earls to learn how to care for her new mare, Gypsy. As the three of them spend more and more time with Gypsy, they all become entranced by the horse and begin to learn more about themselves. Touching and heartfelt, A Kingdom in a Horse shows the meaningful impact an animal can have and the strength it can inspire in a person.
The original edition, published by Harper & Row in 1965, has a much better cover that actually shows the two main characters (the bitter boy and the elderly woman) and a horse that looks much closer to the mare Wojciechowska described in the book. Plus it shows the woman in a rocking chair in the barn. Sarah did indeed put a rocking chair in the barn so she could sit and visit her mare.

Jacketflap, which gives the above cover description, says this about A Kingdom in a Horse: First published in 1965, this is a true classic about the love and happiness found in owning a horse. . . . A heartfelt story, this middle-reader is a must read for any girl or boy interested in nature and horses. Ages 9-12.

Here's another cover, probably from the 1993 edition, that gets the boy and the horse right.

I agree with Jacketflap about "the love and happiness found in owning a horse" part. I've been there, done that. And I'm still doing it.  But I disagree about this being a "must read" for kids "interested in nature." There's not much nature in it, although the setting—a rural part of Vermont—is nicely described and Sarah notices her surroundings as she rides her mare across her farm. As for a middle-grade novel, most middle-graders today wouldn't find A Kingdom in a Horse very compelling. But I—over a half century beyond the targeted age group—did.

A Kingdom in a Horse is a great read for a sixty-something horse lover. The book actually has two stories—David's and Sarah's. It is Sarah's story, however, that has the most impact. The elderly widow buys a horse to fill the void left by her husband's death. She knows nothing about horses, so Davis Earl helps her out.

Horse folks will have to suspend disbelief during parts of this story. The mare bought at auction is too perfect. Why would someone sell a horse that is so well trained, so gentle, so accepting? The elderly Sarah doesn't have much trouble riding at all; soon she is galloping all over her farm. Apparently, she has none of the age-related infirmities that many of us have. Sarah installs a woodstove in the barn to keep her horse and herself warm? And then brings the mare into the kitchen when the stove isn't enough?

Some of the other horse-keeping ideas are a bit outdated: the wooden floors in the stall, the idea that wet legs can cause founder, etc.

If you're of a certain age and you've owned a horse, you already know the "meaningful impact" a horse can have. I recommend this book— not for today's pre-teen readers, but for older horse lovers who can identify with Sarah's love of a horse. 

While A Kingdom in a Horse is not a "true classic," it's a pretty interesting read for us geriatric horse-crazy folks.

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Blogger R.M. said...

I honestly don't know why I haven't read this book! 1965, if it was in the Library, with a horse on the cover, I would have read it.

I understand about suspending disbelief: A wood stove in a barn! Yikers! In 1965 only Show or Race horses would have had blankets.

Ditto about the galloping part. I do this now, from time to time, but a day or two afterwards I'm so stiff I can barely get out of bed!

I also used to have chairs in the barn, but one of my minis got her head in the arm and was wearing it like a necklace, which spooked the other horses. No chairs in the barn anymore.

2:55 PM  

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