I’m probably the only American girl that didn’t go through a horse phase. Nonetheless, I’ve always found horses to be a walking paradox. They are strong and powerful, but, once trustful of you, they are extraordinarily gentle. On many occasions, I’ve merely stood next to a horse, stroking its muzzle, and it produces the same calming effect as petting a dog or cat. Point is, horses are beautiful creatures, and getting to ride one someday would be a great pleasure.
Recently, a friend of mine was shocked to learn that I had never even heard of Marguerite Henry’s classic Misty of Chincoteague. It’s one of many, many children’s books about some children and their powerful friendship with an animal. My reading experience has shown that any story with an animal as a focal point will not be easy on my soft heart. But sometimes, they are an unexpected delight.
Paul and Maureen are two young children who live with their grandparents on Chincoteague, a tiny island off the coast of Virginia. Every year, the island men round up the herds of wild ponies, and they train and sell them in a Pony Penning festival. There is a legendary wild pony the island calls the Phantom, and, after spying the beautiful creature, Paul and Maureen are determined to capture her. Except now, the Phantom has a foal. Now, Paul and Maureen have to fight not just for the island’s most famous pony, but also for her foal, whom they christen Misty…
Every story about a horse has to be an adventure in some ways. Horses seem to represent everything beautiful and wild about nature, which is what draws Paul and Maureen to the beach where they first spy the Phantom and her foal. A sense of excitement pervades this whole story, as Paul and Maureen partake in the Pony Penning, and as they grow closer to the Phantom. It’s adorable watching the two children work to earn the money for the ponies, because what child hasn’t taken up extra chores in order to earn something they really, really want?
The affection with which Ms. Henry paints horses, not to mention Chincoteague Island itself, is remarkable. Apparently, Misty herself is based off a real foal that Ms. Henry knew on Chincoteague, and other horses from the island would eventually appear in her future books. Even if you might not be very fond of horses, you can still feel the author’s great love for the gentle giants of the Chincoteague beaches.
I also must mention the illustrations on this book. The way Ms. Henry describes the wild horses, with long and shaggy coats, was peculiar to me, as I’ve always thought of horses’ coats being fine and velvety. But the illustrations still drew them plainly as horses, just with slightly fuzzier coats, and it was, strangely, an endearing picture. Especially with Misty, it gives more texture and character to her with her longer coat. And besides, in a story about faraway landscapes, and horse races, pictures always add more drama and excitement.
But the most heartwarming moment in these stories comes when the children and animals form a trust. I feel like going in depth with this one may invite spoilers, but the illustrations in the book will convey the warmth and excitement better than I can here.
Discovering stories that excite your inner child is such fun. And sometimes a good way to pass the time is to take a small, fun adventure with a little wild horse.