The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton (InfoSoup)
Princess Pinecone is the smallest warrior in a kingdom of warriors. For her birthday, she wanted something other than the cozy sweaters that she usually got. After all, warriors want something that make them feel like champions, not cozy sweaters. So Princess Pinecone asked for a real warrior horse, a grand steed. Unfortunately, what she got was a round little pony who ate what it shouldn’t and then farted too much. The day of a great warrior battle was approaching and Princess Pinecone just asked her pony to do its best. Everyone was fighting with one another and Princess Pinecone stayed at the edge waiting for her opportunity to join in. When Otto, a huge warrior, charged right at her, he was stopped by the cuteness of her pony. One by one all of the fierce warriors stopped to look at her pony, to pet it and hug it. Otto admitted that warriors rarely get to show their cuddly side. And that’s how Princess Pinecone found a use for all of her cozy sweaters and appreciation for her cutest of ponies.
The author of the online comic Hark! A Vagrant has released her first picture book and it’s stellar. First, let’s just applaud a picture book that has a tough heroine at its center, one who uses spitballs, wants to battle, and is looking for a real steed to ride. Second, the book also has other strong female characters, women warriors on the page who are already living the life that the princess seeks. Third, they are also different races. It’s lovely and done without fanfare. Then you also have the fact that the princess is feminine and cute herself. She does not have to reject that part of her to be a warrior. And finally of course you have the cute pony that manages to win a battle in its own way. This book is all about being yourself, whoever you are and the magic that happens when you do just that.
Beaton’s illustrations add so much to the appeal of this book. I love that the pony is a zany cute with eyes that sometimes don’t look in the same direction and a penchant for farting. Round and sturdy, it is impossibly cute. The warriors are also wonderful in their own ways, wearing different types of armor with missing teeth and green hair, they are individuals to the core. And yes, there’s even ice cream at the battle, adding the sense of merriment throughout.
Funny and intelligent, this picture book will have any warrior princess clamoring for more. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Good Night, Knight by Betsy Lewin
When Horse and Knight are falling asleep, Knight has a dream about golden cookies. So he wakes up Horse and sets off on a quest to find the golden cookies. They search everywhere, in hollow tree trunks and under water and in the bushes, riding from one place to the next at a brisk trot. It isn’t until they return home and Knight has collapsed from exhaustion that Knight realizes that the cookies were right in their castle all along. The two have a golden cookie feast and then go to bed, but it’s not long before Horse has a golden dream of his own!
Written for emerging readers, this picture book is written with a limited vocabulary and words that repeat on the page and from one section of the story to another. The picture book format will invite reluctant readers to give reading a try. Lewin also wisely incorporates plenty of humor and galloping around, giving the reader reasons to turn the page to see what will happen next. It’s a good mix of action and silliness.
Lewin’s illustrations break the text into nice readable chunks appropriate for beginning readers. Plenty of attention is paid to the illustrations, offering humor beyond the text itself. For example, Knight never removes his armor, even to sleep! The art is simple, funny and inviting.
Head out on a quest with your beginning reader and this simple picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Holiday House.
Abuelo by Arthur Dorros, illustrated by Raul Colon
A boy and his grandfather spend time together riding horses and camping. They have adventures outdoors losing the trail and even facing a mountain lion. His grandfather taught him to stand strong like a tree. Then one day the boy moved with his family to the city, leaving his grandfather behind. The city was very different. The stars were hard to see, but they were the same stars. The boy learned to use what his grandfather taught him in the countryside. He even stood up to a bully on the first day of school, standing strong as a tree.
Told in graceful free verse, this book reads quickly rather like a brisk horseback ride. Completely controlled and peppered with Spanish, the book evokes the freedom of the countryside and also the lessons of strength being taught across generations.
Colon’s illustrations evoke the differences between the country and the city. The open freedom of the countryside is contrasted against the constraints of the city, yet the sky ranges wide above both and there is freedom when riding your bike just as when riding your horse.
Free verse mingles with the freedom of the range in this multi-generational title, a perfect masculine accompaniment to Dorros’ Abuela. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.
Crankee Doodle by Tom Angleberger
Brace yourself for a picture book that is entire silliness and proud of it! In a riff on Yankee Doodle, this story tells readers that it was all the pony’s idea. Yankee Doodle is bored and goes off on rants about how he doesn’t want to go to town or go shopping. Then the pony suggests a feather for his cap, which starts another rant. The pony finishes with a suggestion to call it macaroni. After that rant, he explains that macaroni is another word for fancy, and that Yankee Doodle may want to call it lasagna instead. In the end, the two of them head off to town, just like the pony wanted all along.
Angleberger writes with such a wry sense of humor here. The rants by Yankee Doodle are a hoot to read aloud, the text heavy with indignation and exclamation points. The sly pony seems to know just what he is doing as he lets Yankee Doodle blow off steam but gets his own way in the end. The book ends with a historical note about the real history of the song.
The illustrations are done in gouache with a thick black line and bold colors. The entire book pops visually and will work with larger groups of children thanks to its clarity and strong shapes.
This one is a winner for story times. Expect guffaws from children who know the song! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Rosie’s Magic Horse by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Rosie collects popsicle sticks that she finds on the ground, creating a collection. But the popsicle sticks miss their cold sweet ice and wish that they were something more than just discarded sticks. Maybe they could be a horse! Meanwhile, Rosie’s parents are worried about bills and how they will pay them. That night Rosie and the popsicle sticks head out on an adventure together as the popsicle sticks join to become a horse, Stickerino. Rosie wants to find treasure and first the horse takes her to a mountain made of popsicle ice, but Rosie wants real treasure. You know that that means pirates! This story is a true flight of imagination, or perhaps a gallop!
Hoban and Blake are quite a team in this book. Hoban writes in mostly dialogue here and throughout has a focus on brevity and clarity. It works well against the wild imaginative nature of the book, making the text a firm foundation from which to launch. Blake’s illustrations are quintessentially his with their jaunty lines and loose watercolor tones.
Perfect for inspiring bedtime dreams of popsicles and horses, this book requires you to just go along for the ride. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Oh, Harry! by Maxine Kumin, illustrated by Barry Moser
Harry the horse did not have the lean lines of the other horses at the Adams & Son farm. He wasn’t jittery or temperamental like the others either. Instead, he was gentle, kind and calm. When any other horse got out of line, Harry was brought in to calm the situation down. He didn’t have a stall like the others either, instead he was allowed to move from spot to spot in the barn as he liked. But then Algernon Adams, aged 6, arrived at the farm. He ran around, yelled and scared the horses. Until one evening, when he got shut in the grain bin. All the people had left, only the horses were in the barn, including Harry. And now Harry had a decision to make about the naughty young Algernon.
Kumin’s verse is playful and jaunty. This is not poetry of a serious sort, but rather the type that skips along telling a story. The rhymes read aloud well, moving the entire story along at a brisk pace.
Moser’s art offers a lot of range here. His paintings show quiet moments of beautiful horses together. They also show silly moments with Harry and Algernon. They have deep colors placed again white space that really make the images pop.
A winning combination of engaging verse and art, this picture book will be appreciated by horse lovers of any age. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
Running with the Horses by Alison Lester
Follow the harrowing rescue of the Lipizzaner horses during World War II in this picture book. The book is nonfiction woven with fiction, seen through the eyes of a fictional character, Nina, the daughter of the stablemaster at the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna. As the war came closer to Vienna, Nina’s school was closed and people were fleeing the city. To save the last four stallions, Nina would have to ride over the Alps with her father. But she could not leave her favorite old cab horse, Zelda, behind in the deserted city. So Nina rode Zelda, following her father and the horses, not knowing the dangers that she and Zelda would face together as they crossed the Alps to safety.
Lester has created a picture book that successfully marries fiction with history, giving young readers a glimpse of the dangers of the War as well as the bravery that it created. Nina is a ten-year-old whose care for her horse and courage during the adventure will inspire. The book does have more text than many picture books, making it more appropriate for a slightly older audience, one which is more likely to understand the historical aspect of the book better as well.
The illustrations are a very attractive mix of photographs and pencil drawings. The characters are shown in black and white throughout, contrasted with the colored backgrounds. This creates a unique look that has the people in clear relief from their surroundings.
A look at a moment in history that has the appeal of horses and a young heroine as well. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from NorthSouth.
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Wonder Horse: the True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse by Emily Arnold McCully
“Doc” Bill Key was born a slave and always had a knack with animals. When Emancipation came, he became a veterinarian and a businessman. After purchasing an Arabian mare from a circus, Doc bred her hoping to have a fast racehorse. But the foal was born with twisted legs and worse, the mare died after giving birth. It was a bit before Doc realized how intelligent the foal, Jim, was. Soon Jim had moved into the house to sleep and had learned to open the paddock lock and also find where Doc kept the apples. Doc wondered what else Jim could learn to do. Slowly, Jim learned the alphabet and colors. Doc and Jim performed for audiences until their act was questioned as a fraud. An independent panel came in and tested Jim without Doc in the room, proving that Jim indeed was able to read, spell, do arithmetic, and knew his colors. The two continued to travel together and perform, demonstrating the intelligence of animals and that kindness is the key to learning.
This book is ideal for animal lovers who will root for Doc and Jim from the beginning. The fact that it is a true story makes it a far more interesting read. McCully manages to offer a vast amount of information and insight in a picture book format without losing the ease of phrase that is necessary for this age group. Young readers will delight in how and what Jim learned as well as the relationship between trainer and animal. The book does not turn away from the racism leveled at Doc. McCully addresses it with frankness and subtlety, allowing the book to be read and understood at different levels.
McCully’s paintings capture the connection and relationship of Doc and Jim as well as the beauty of the horse. The author’s note at the end is also of interest. It offers a photograph of Doc and Jim where readers will be pleased to see how close a resemblance they have to the illustrations in the book.
A celebration of trainer and animal as well as kindness and perseverance, this book will delight young horse fans. Appropriate for ages 4-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.
Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff
Lidie lives with her aunt and uncle in Brazil, and now is being reunited with her father and brother in the United States. In Brazil she spends her time riding horses and she hopes to be able to show her father, a horse trainer, and her brother, a jockey-in-training, that she can ride too. Reaching America, she finds that so much is different. From the language barrier, to her skills at school, to her relationship with her father. Everyone expects her to be the small girl they left behind in Brazil, but she has changed. Her father gives her an old horse to teach her to ride, not knowing that she can ride well. But Lidie wants to ride Wild Girl, the new spirited and unbroken filly. How can Lidie show everyone who she really is without betraying everything she once was and where she came from?
Lidie is a fantastic character. Her voice is strong and consistent, her dilemma understandable and relatable, and her actions true to who she is. I love having a heroine in books who is flawed, struggling and gloriously real. Lidie is a voice for many girls who come to the United States, struggle with the language, and are bright, vivacious and fascinating.
By combining girlhood and horses, Giff has created the perfect setting. Everyone can relate to a love of horses and riding. It is a language that translates across all of us. A world we are all a part of. It was a brilliant choice of setting and character melding together.
Giff has also excelled at creating a home filled with love where there are communication problems and misunderstandings. She has written all of our homes into this one, a universal home for children who are seen as younger than they really are and are struggling to reveal who they have become.
With her universal themes combined with a vivid characterization, Giff has created a book that should be in the hands of almost every pre-teen girl. I guarantee that they will see themselves on the page no matter what their first languages are. Highly recommended for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy provided by Random House.
Twenty Heartbeats by Dennis Haseley, illustrated by Ed Young.
A very wealthy man wanted a painting of his favorite horse so he commissioned a portrait by Homan, known as a great painter of horses. Homan observed the horse for only a short while and then told the wealthy man that he would call him when it was ready. The wealthy man returned home and waited a day, a week, a month, several years, then several more years. Finally, he stormed to Homan’s home and demanded to know what was going on. Homan took a paintbrush and painted the picture right then and there. The wealthy man was insulted and very angry, assuming that Homan had never worked on the piece. Until he glimpsed the extent of Homan’s work.
Haseley’s text takes a difficult piece and makes it very accessible and gripping even though much of the book is spent awaiting the painting. Young’s illustrations are done in collage and are very successful. They range from intricate portraits of people and horses to landscapes that evoke awe. He manages with pieces of paper to create a world where readers will happily immerse themselves.
A beautiful collaboration of art and story, this book will have elementary-age children discussing what the wealthy man learned in the end. Appropriate for ages 6-9.