Thursday, 21 August 2014

PBOTD 21st August: Pat Smythe - Three Jays on Holiday

Today's book, Three Jays on Holiday, follows on the holiday theme. I've never actually done a statistical analysis of when most pony books were set, but I'd be surprised if the most popular time frame wasn't during the summer holidays. People are free of the distraction of school, and there's the possibility of adventure anywhere in the world, depending on where you send your characters on holiday.

Having said that, pony adventure tends to be firmly based in the characters' home country, as taking your pony with you to Tenerife is a bit of a palaver. However, you might be lucky enough to ride someone else's horses while you're abroad, and that's what happens to Pat Smythe's Three Jays in Three Jays on Holiday. Published by Cassell in 1958, it sees the Jays going to the South of France, where they're supposed to meet Jacky's father and his yacht. They've persuaded Jacky's cousin, Darcy, to take them there in his Bentley. They're all set to meet Pat in the Camargue, where they get to ride the horses. It's an interesting twist to the usual plot, and I wonder if Pat's own globetrotting lifestyle as one of our best show jumpers inspired it. 

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

PBOTD 20th August: Judith M Berrisford - Jackie on Pony Island

Jackie on Pony Island is Judith M Berrisford's ninth Jackie book, in which Jackie and Babs help Dave and his family with a beach riding scheme. Judith M Berrisford specialised in holiday adventure: so much so that Jackie and Babs cram far more adventures into the summer holidays than is actually possible with the time span of the series. I think they live in another universe; either one where parallel adventures are possible, or one where the summer holidays start in June and end in September. I think I'd find the second one rather more appealing.

Pony Island contains two more of the author's tropes: trial by water, and a disapproving, older, male character. Jackie and her friend Babs are not good when near the sea. In Jackie’s Pony Camp Summer (1968), she and Misty are swept off a causeway from an island to the shore and have to be rescued; in Jackie on Pony Island (1977), Jackie and Babs are late leaving the island, and have to be rescued from deep water on the causeway.  

Dave finds the girls a major irritation. After he has to save Jackie and Babs from their plunge into the sea off the causeway, he is livid, and condemns them as “the silliest pony-girls I’ve had the misfortune to meet.”  He's not alone in condemning Jackie and Babs: most of the books have a similar character. Poor Jackie and Babs find happiness in the end by gaining the approval of these paternalistic figures: never by striking out on their own. Success is always seen in terms of pleasing male authority figures, which gives the books a helpless, puppyish feel. 

When I read the Jackie books myself as a child, I certainly didn't put any feminist interpretation on what happened. I do remember feeling puzzled that the men and boys were always so very stern, and feeling that it was unfair. It was, and it is. Maybe there's room for someone to write a story where Jackie and Babs realise they don't have to please male authority. They can do things on their own. 

The Jackie Series
Jackie Won a Pony, 1958
Ten Ponies and Jackie, 1959
Jackie’s Pony Patrol, 1961
Jackie and the Pony Trekkers, 1963
Jackie’s Pony Camp Summer, 1968
Jackie and the Pony Boys, 1970
Jackie’s Show Jumping Surprise, 1973
Jackie and the Misfit Pony, 1976
Jackie on Pony Island, 1977
Jackie and the Pony Thieves, 1978
Jackie and the Phantom Ponies, 1979
Jackie and the Moonlight Pony, 1980
Jackie and the Pony Rivals, 1981
Jackie and the Missing Showjumper, 1982
Change Ponies, Jackie! 1983
Jackie’s Steeplechase Adventure, 1984

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Tuesday, 19 August 2014

PBOTD 19th August: Patricia Leitch - Highland Pony Trek

Don't be fooled by the illustration of Highland Pony Trek, which promises a conventional equine holiday adventure. In Patricia Leitch's Highland Pony Trek (1964), Scotland is a Scotland that is threatened – heroine Innes and her family are hanging on to what they love under threat from the nouveau riches who see Scotland simply as a playground. 

The characters in Highland Pony Trek aren't the convention sort who believe that if they work hard everything will work out. There's much more failure than is usual in a pony story. Elder sister Fiona is inclined to give up, and gets bored with the whole trekking idea half way through. 

You can see in this book the germination of the themes Patricia Leitch was to explore at length in the Jinny series: the danger of having too much money, which insulates you from the natural world, and the real difficulty of making your way in a world which view you at best dispassionately.

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Monday, 18 August 2014

PBOTD 18th August: Jane McIlwaine - Pony Trekking Summer

Pony Trekking Summer isn't a book that appears that often. This author is often confused with the American Jane McIlvaine, but they are different people. Pony Trekking Summer was published in 1965, and is the author's only book. It's set in the Spey Valley in the Highlands of Scotland, and is the story of children who help out at the local trekking centre.

The book’s a good read: it’s not the only story of deer poachers confounded by any means, but it’s a good one, crammed with Highland ponies, The characters are well done and refreshingly normal, and the story is believable.

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Sunday, 17 August 2014

PBOTD 17th August: Jo Packer - Gymkhana Trek

I do occasionally keep books just because I like the covers, and that's the case with Jo Packer's Gymkhana Trek (1959). The story itself is not that thrilling: four children go off on a trek, and take part in various gymkhanas as they go. It's a theme that was dealt with rather better by Australian authors Christine Stewart and Julie Yager in their Six Horses and a Caravan (1964).

But Gymkhana Trek does have a lovely cover by Peter Biegel, and that's why I've kept it. It's also why I've kept the same author's No Pony Like Pepper, and I'm ashamed to say I haven't even read that.

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Saturday, 16 August 2014

PBOTD 16th August: Margaret MacPherson - Ponies for Hire

Margaret MacPherson set Ponies for Hire, and her other two children's books, on the Isle of Skye, where she lived. The book has an authentic background: crofting has never been an easy lifestyle, and Kirsty and her family are struggling to survive. Her brother, Robbie has had enough of farming using Highland pony horsepower, and wants a tractor. If he can’t farm in an easier way, he’ll go off to sea. Kirsty of course is desperate for this not to happen. Her widowed mother starts to take in holiday makers to make enough money to pay for the tractor, and Kirsty, together with their first guest, Nick, start a small trekking operation with the rest of the community’s ponies, fortunately on their summer break from farming.

This is a book it took me decades to read, despite the fact I encountered it more than once. It was published as part of Collins Three Great Pony Stories, and I never got any further than the middle story, Monica Edwards' The Midnight Horse. I loved The Midnight Horse with a passion. I was absolutely fascinated by Tamzin and her ability (which sadly deserts her after this book) to construct horses out of Plasticene. I, in common, with every other child educated in the 1960s and 1970s, was an old hand with Plasticene, which used to come in huge blocks at school, but try as I might I could never make anything like Tamzin's creations. And so I lived through her, imagining that my fingers would actually reproduce in Plasticene the beautiful creatures in my head.

And that alas was what I think did for Margaret MacPherson - simply where her book was in the collection - the last story in the book. If she'd have been before The Midnight Horse, I'd have read her on the way to it, as I read They Bought Her a Pony, despite the fact I was never that keen on it.

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Friday, 15 August 2014

PBOTD 15th August: Primrose Cumming - The Mystery Trek

When you're selling many pony books a week, you don't tend to remember individual books. You remember the ones that are spectacularly rare - the ones you're excited just to have held before you send them off; the beautiful books; the books that someone has been desperate to find, but everything else comes under the heading of general stock, which you're glad to see going out of the door on its way to its new owners.

The books I do remember individually are the ones I bought at the beginning of my bookselling career. I remember buying Primrose Cumming's The Mystery Trek from a stall in Kettering's antique market. There were a couple of sellers who specialised in books, but they mostly sold modern paperbacks. The other stalls had the occasional book which was rather more interesting, and I can even remember where The Mystery Trek was: at the back of a white tableclothed stall, with a few other books. 

I bought The Mystery Trek, and put it up on eBay, where it duly sold. I'd never heard of Primrose Cumming before, and this was the first of her books I'd read. It's one of her later titles, being published in 1964, and although there's plenty about a trek, the main focus of the story is the relationship between two sisters, Leonie and Susan.

Leonie is deeply depressed after the death of her horse, and at first refuses to come trekking with Susan. When they turn up to the trek and it turns out that there is no one to lead it, Leonie is persuaded to set aside her resolve never to ride again. Slowly, over the course of the trek, she comes to life again.

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