Diana Kimpton: Princess Ellie to the Rescue
Usborne, 2004 £3.99
Diana Kimpton's website
Series of, so far, 13 books
This was another title whose cover straightaway said "Turn away. This is not for you." Whilst quite a step up from the pastel kitsch of The Secret Unicorn, it's still girly. No other word for it. Girly. And girly was what I thought I was going to get.
However, I didn't. This was my favourite of the books for the younger element, though not Miranda’s: “OK,” was as far as she got. Maybe she felt it was a bit young for her: I didn't do very well when I tried to prise more out of her. For me, it was straightforward and witty, and a well-written story of a princess trying to be normal. Ironically, given the badging of the series, Princess Ellie hates pink, which is a pity as her father is convinced all princess like pink, and so that’s what her room is. Pink from ceiling to floor. Ellie is just grateful that no one makes pink riding boots her size, or she’d have them.
These are super stories. The pony stuff is accurate; the adults normal and well-drawn, and Ellie is my kind of girl. She gets muddy, falls face first in the muck heap and wears her wellies to dinner with the Prime Minister.
If you want something to read to your young that will make you laugh too, go for this. I'd love to see what this author could do if she turned her sights on the older market.
Victoria Eveleigh's website
This is the most traditional of the pony books we looked at. It has a completely unsparkly cover, with a simple illustration of the Exmoors, and it was Miranda’s favourite. She liked the fact it was about an Exmoor: "a type of pony," she said, "you wouldn't normally have in a pony book." Oh yes you would, I thought, but now I come to think of it she's right: certainly as far as the modern pony book goes. They don't tend to mention the pony's breed. It was interesting that this was something Miranda picked up on. Was it because it was a rare breed? I asked her. "Yes," she said. "It made it more interesting. I like to read about rare breeds and them being saved."
I liked the fact the book is clear of any tinge of the Marketing Department. No glitz, no stars, and absolutely no pink. Or unicorns. Or magic ponies. I like the fact it is illustrated: though some illustrations work better than others.
There is far more to this book, though, than what it isn't. It is a well-told and absorbing story. Victoria Eveleigh lives and farms on Exmoor and her deep knowledge of the area shows through.
Katy, her heroine, lives on an Exmoor farm with her parents and brother. Life is not at all easy: money is a constant worry. Katy's birthday falls in the middle of lambing, and so tends to be drowned by all the lambing busyness. She finds a very poor foal on the Common, but her father won't let her bring it and its mother down to the farm. Katy is determined to have the foal for her own one day, but she will only be allowed to have it if it passes its inspection at branding time. Reading that back, I've made the father sound like an ogre, but he is not. He is a farmer who has to survive, and who cannot afford indulgences.
Like all the other characters, Phil, Katy's father is a well drawn character. You never doubt that any of them could be sitting around your table, talking. Victoria Eveleigh is particularly good on the relationship between Katy and her new friend Alice. Katy is used to being the outsider, and then she meets Alice on the bus.
"In no time at all the bus was pulling up at the school gates and Katy's heart sank. Now Alice would discover that she had accidentally befriended a nonentity, and she would pal up with some of the more popular children."
Oh, how true.
Miranda also fell for the character of Katy. "I liked the way Katy went behind her father's back to get something that she really wanted. I thought she was very brave at that age." Interestingly the auction was the source of her one criticism: "I didn't believe that someone so young would be able to bid for a horse!" Which is a very interesting conflict: on the one hand she likes the drama and the bravery, and the excitement of the story: even the wish fulfilment of this girl getting out there and fighting for something, but on the other hand my pragmatic girl realises how difficult this would be for the average child. Reading the scene with an adult perspective, I like it. It's a close-knit community, and most people there know who Katy is: it's obvious she's not doing something in isolation.
This is a good, well observed story. Although in many ways it's a traditional pony book (girl doesn't have pony, struggles, gets pony) I think it's timeless. It's not written to "appeal" to the youth market, but it does, because Victoria Eveleigh has got it right. She understands Exmoor, she understands ponies, and most importantly of all, people.
There are two further books in the series (Katy's Exmoor Adventures and Katy's Exmoor Friends), and Victoria Eveleigh is planning another book set on Lundy.