Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Reading to Children: October 08 - Horse Stories, Mostly

"Kids who come to kindergarten and first grade with rich language experiences—language play, rhymes, and being read to from birth onward—have a deeper awareness of how 
language and reading works. Studies suggest that children without such backgrounds have an increased risk of reading difficulties." - from "The Mystery of the Struggling Reader" by Mike Knight,

... but if your kids missed the pre-school experience of being read to, you can still give them a boost by starting now. The year I taught third grade, one of my biggest pleasant surprises came from several "resource" students who started the year reading at about first grade level, but finished almost on grade level, after a school year of a half-hour a day of silent and/or assisted reading aloud, and a half hour a day of listening while I read aloud.
Just today I read an e-mail from a new student in my on-line ninth-grade English class. She is a senior making up a quarter of ninth grade English, and she tells me she hasn't read a book since ninth grade, and hasn't been required to read a book for any of her classes in her first three years of high school. And we wonder why test scores don't rise?
Of course the schools have a role and a responsibility in getting kids reading, but as a parent, you have a greater responsibility for your kids' education. Your children see your priorities on a daily basis, and care more about your regard and opinions than about their teachers'. Along with everything you do to keep their bodies strong and healthy, nourish their minds with lots of reading!

Picture Books About Horses

Horses of Dreamland, by Duncan & Diamond - a short bedtime story in rhyme about "a child who dreams of horses" and her dream adventures. The illustrations are beautiful rather than cute, some in dreamy watercolors, some using silhouettes of horses, mountains, and mesas. This book seems to be out of print, but if you have a little horse-lover it is worth searching for used. Ages three and up.

The Sleep Ponies, by Ongman - soft watercolor illustrations showing cute ponies and children in meadows - a bedtime story, the basic concept is similar to Horses of Dreamland, but it is carried out quite differently. Ages two or three and up.

Snow Ponies, by Cotten & Cockcroft - When Old Man Winter lets his snow ponies out of the barn, they gallop over the countryside leaving everything white - a well-illustrated, magical story. Ages three and up.

Snow Riders, by McGeorge & Whyte - After a big snowstorm, a brother and sister build snow horses instead of snowmen - and that night, the horses come to life and carry them on a ride through the winter night. Wonderful illustrations - the night time pictures have deep, rich colors in the background, in contrast to the bright-white horses. Ages three or four and up.

Billy and Blaze, by Anderson - now a classic, C.W. Anderson's first picture book of several about a boy and his horse. The illustrations (pencil?) are typical of all Anderson's books - the horses (along with everything else) are drawn in impeccable, loving detail, and look absolutely real, ready to step off the page. K-3rd grade.

The Gift of the Sacred Dog, by Goble - a re-telling of a native American story about how the first horses were given to people, when a boy acted unselfishly. Like all Goble's books, this one has his distinctive, stylized, brightly colored illustrations, any one of which I would love to frame and hang on my wall. If you like this one, see also Goble's The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, and, for that matter, all his other books. Age five and up.

For elementary school listeners:
(see also A Ride on the Red Mare's Back, by LeGuin, in a previous post)

The Superlative Horse, by Merrill & Solbert - a picture book, but with more text than most, this one is based on a Chinese folk tale and has lovely, Chinese-style illustrations - about a peasant boy who becomes the emperor's "Chief Groom" because of his skill and integrity. I think it is out of print, but available used. For first or second graders and up.

Mrs. Mack, by Polacco - another longer picture book, autobiographical, about how the author learned to ride and the woman who taught her (and many others) horsemanship. First or second graders up.

Horses Across America, by Mellin - nonfiction picture book, this one mixes some history and geography with an introduction to common breeds of horses in the US. A mixture of black and white drawings and color paintings, but all beautiful and accurate. Also out of print. Second graders and up.

Classic Horse Stories: Smoky the Cowhorse, by Will James; The Black Stallion by Walter Farley; National Velvet, by Bagnold; Black Beauty, by Sewell (there is also an excellent abridged edition, abridged by Robin McKinley and with illustrations by Susan Jeffers); My Friend Flicka (NOT to be confused with the movie(s) of the same title) by O'Hara, and the two sequels; and the Marguerite Henry historical fiction horse books, including King of the Wind, Misty of Chincoteague, Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Black Gold, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, and two of my favorites of her lesser-known works, Gaudenzia: Pride of the Palio, and Born to Trot.

The Far-Distant Oxus, by Hull & Whitlock - written by two teenage girls in the 1930's, this is the story of several children on summer holiday in England farm country, a summer in which they each have a pony to ride. If you have ever read Swallows and Amazons, by Ransome, this book does with ponies what Ransome's books did with sailboats. Amazingly, it seems to be back in print, in paperback. Wonderful, old-fashioned fun. Read to third or fourth graders and up.

The Silver Brumby, and The Snow Filly, by Mitchell - The Snow Filly is the first full-length book I can remember really coming alive for me to read myself. I was in third grade. Coming back to them as an adult, I was afraid I might be disappointed, but I wasn't. Mitchell's love and knowledge of the Australian mountains shine through in her fluid writing, and the wild horses make wonderful characters. Third graders and up.

Afraid to Ride, by Anderson - a horse-crazy girl who has been thrown and badly frightened is paired with an abused Thoroughbred jumper, and gradually they heal each other. This book was written long before the fad for "animal rescue" stories came along, but it is realistic and optimistic - and since it is by CW Anderson, it also has some lovely illustrations. Fourth graders and up.

Fly-By-Night, by Peyton - set in Great Britain, a girl without much money acquires a green pony, and the two of them learn (sometimes the hard way) enough to have fun together, and join a local Pony Club. Well-written, with strong characters and realistic action, plot and subplot, this is a delightful "a girl and her horse" story. Fourth grade up. The sequel, The Team, is also excellent.

For Teens:

The Horsecatcher by Sandoz - Newbery honor book, historical fiction about a Cheyenne boy, maybe in the early 1800's or late 1700's. Young Elk's father and older brother are important hunters and warriors in the tribe, and he is expected to follow in their footsteps, but what he truly wants is to be a horsecatcher and trainer. This is a wonderful coming-of-age story about how he learns to follow his own heart, but in the end makes a personal sacrifice for the good of his people. Sandoz researched the Cheyenne culture extensively, and the bits about horses are realistic and believable. I remembered this story well from when I read it as a child. Can work as a read-aloud for about fourth or fifth graders and up.

Three of Robin McKinley's wonderful fantasies include significant equine characters - Beauty, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. I couldn't live without any of them, and although the main characters in all three are girls, my boys loved these books, too. The Blue Sword is a sort of distant sequel to The Hero and the Crown, but it really doesn't matter in which order you read them.

Not on a White Horse, by Springer - realistic fiction, about a twelve-year-old girl from a tough community. Her father's been laid off and drinking, her pretty teenage sister runs off to marry a boyfriend, and of course they can't afford a horse for Rhiannon. The way things work out is optimistic but believable.

Flambards, by Peyton - set in England in the early 1900's. Christina is sent to live with her uncle and cousins in the country, and introduced to foxhunting. This well-written book isn't so much about horses, but horses play in important role. It also has at least two sequels.

My Horses, My Teachers, by Podhajsky - nonfiction, autobiographical - the author remembers the horses he has known and learned from over a lifetime that led him to be head of the famous Spanish Riding School and the Lippizan stallions. Fascinating for serious horse-lovers, especially if they have had some experience actually riding or training horses.

The Man Who Listens to Horses, by Roberts - autobiographical, although there is some question about whether some of it is fictionalized. Skip the introduction, as the person who wrote that either doesn't know much about the history of horsemanship or chose to disregard it. Whether it is 100% true or not, this is an interesting story about one of the most famous living horsemen in the US and his experiences and ideas about training horses.