Friday, October 17, 2008

Blaze and the Gray Spotted Pony

guest blogger gef ~ The Kindergarten Diaries and Lost in Texas

Blaze and the Gray Spotted Pony
C.W. Anderson — Macmillan, 1968

I’ve had a lifelong passion for horses. Sadly, I’ve never owned one, but like many a lovelorn girl, I made up for it in horse books. These days the horsey fiction genre is very much geared toward chicks (the popular Thoroughbred YA series, all things pretty and pony), and I’m not sure why or when that happened. I’ve even noted an attitude among some parents of sons that riding horses — particularly riding English — is somehow unmanly. Maybe not on the level of boys taking ballet or figure skating, but something like that. Well, it wasn’t always that way.

Two of the best equine children’s book series — Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books (and Little Black books) and C.W. Anderson’s Billy and Blaze series — date from the 1940s–60s and focus on English-riding boys and their horse pals. When I was a kid, I adored C.W. Anderson’s nonfiction stuff, his gorgeous, anatomically perfect pencil drawings of famous thoroughbreds. (Twenty Gallant Horses is a must for racing fans — I checked it out from the library on a weekly basis until I had the brilliant idea of photocopying the whole thing at 10¢ per page.) I never encountered Anderson’s Billy and Blaze series until I got lucky at a few library sales. My older daughter loved their simple, straightforward narratives, and of course those beautiful illustrations until she got all preoccupied with princesses and fairy tales, and started moving on to chapter books.

The upshot is this: Billy is a wholesome, upstanding lad of around 12 who rides his chestnut pony Blaze in horse shows and in and out of various scrapes with mountain lions, forest fires, etc. I haven’t read the whole series but know that most are classic adventure stories. Blaze and the Spotted Pony is a little quieter; it focuses on Billy’s younger neighbor, Tommy, another horse nut, who dreams about horses (a gray spotted one in particular), who gets toy horses for Christmas, who builds a makeshift barn in his backyard in hopes that his parents will finally get the hint and give him a REAL horse.

Once Tommy got a beautiful horse for his birthday. It was almost as big as a pony, and he could ride it. Its mane and coat felt real. It wasn’t alive of course —but almost.

Sweet-natured Billy sympathizes with Tommy’s unrequited horse passion (in the first book of the series, Billy is in the same boat). He teaches Tommy how to groom Blaze, and teaches him how to ride. Sometimes Tommy runs alongside Billy and Blaze till he gets tired, which, frankly, is a little bit sad. Finally, Tommy’s parents enlist Billy’s aid in surprising Billy with a pony for his birthday, and after an arduous search they find him the gray spotted pony of his dreams.

When Tommy rode his pony beside Blaze through the woods he knew he was the happiest boy in the world. This was his very own pony — gray, with spots, and alive.

I just think these books are really sweet — for girls and boys — the lovely black-and-white illustrations are a welcome respite from a mostly pink-and-purple Pretty Pony world (though my older daughter would probably disagree on the latter point — I’ve got another daughter who will soon be old enough for these books, so I’m hopeful I’ll get to read them again).


daysease said...

I LOVE these older books,and it makes me excited to delve into one again now that you have shared this. Thank you... Great book

Eliza said...

I couldn't get enough of Billy and Blaze when I was younger. The Black that was something I could never get into. I couldn't begin to guess just when horse books started to revolve around girls, but I do know Thoroughbred was always about empowerment, which always led to impossible scenarios where the 12-year-old girl tells off the professional (male) trainer and is always right. Silly, yes, but it seems horses and girl power have been coming hand-in-hand in children's books since the late 80s starting with The Saddle Club.

Anonymous said...

Billy and Blaze was my favorite! I always checked them out from the school library when I was small. Now I can't find them to read to my daughters (and baby son). I never got into the Black Stallion books either, or the Misty of Chincoteague series. I hope all of my children will love horses and riding (English) as I do.

gef said...

mara, i just checked out your blog and all i can say is...i'm in awe. about ten or twelve years ago i had the opportunity to ghost-write for the thoroughbred series and passed it up on the grounds of being "too busy" with my day job. i've always regretted and now even more so!

Tanya said...

I *loved* "Blaze and the Gray Spotted Pony"! That was one of my favorite horsey books. I read it repeatedly and would spend ages gazing longingly at the wonderful illustrations. I also loved "Summer Pony" by Jean Slaughter Doty.

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