Imagine growing up on an island where wild ponies roam. For Paul and Maureen Beebe, characters in Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry, it leaves them with an insatiable desire to have one for themselves.
They even have a particular pony in mind: the Phantom. Some said she was dark like the pine trees; others said she was the color of copper with splashes of silver. When Paul catches a glimpse of her, however, the feature which most stands out is a strange white marking that begins at her withers and spreads out like the United States of America. Now that he’s finally allowed to participate in the pony swim on Pony Penning Day, Paul plans to capture the Phantom. If he does, it’ll be a marvelous feat, given that every other year the Phantom has outsmarted grown and experienced men. One man even had his horse’s leg broken in his attempt. What makes this adventure even more exciting is that it’s based on real people and real events.
Every July in Virginia, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department really does hold a Pony Penning Day. The event consists of a Pony Swim, followed by a carnival which includes a Pony Auction. For the Wild Pony Swim, Salt Water Cowboys round-up feral ponies from Assateague Island and drive them across the channel to Chincoteague Island. Later, at the carnival, some of the foals are auctioned off before the ponies are freed to swim back to Assateague Island. Pony Penning Day has taken place since 1925 as a fund-raiser and is now considered a national treasured event. A horse named Misty once also existed. She was even owned for ten years by Henry. As for the Beebe family, the grandparents and the children were real too. One can see photos of them (and of Misty) in Dear Readers and Riders, a question and answer book which Henry wrote in response to letters from fans.
As I reread Misty of Chincoteague this week, I tried to figure out what about Henry’s books brings so much delight. After all, there are a plethora of horse stories. But Henry’s is one of the best–I suspect because of how well she can get inside of a horse’s head. When Henry writes about the wild horses, their snorts of happiness over salt grass and their whinnies of excitement over an island of their own, I feel as I am if right there with them. Later, when she tells of how they learned to fall to their knees, then sidle and wriggle along like crabs to escape deep miry mud, I can envision the scene in my head. In fact, Henry pulls me so deeply inside the heads of the wild horses, I struggle at first to accept that any of them might like to live with men. But Henry also makes me believe that at least one of them does: Phantom’s colt Misty. I know this because Misty’s ears pricks to hear the children sing and her lashes lower to invite the attention that brushing brings. Sometimes, Misty even nips buttons on men’s coats and steals flowers from ladies’ hats, when she feels left out of activities. Through Henry, I fell in love with horses.
Henry also earned my deep admiration as an author. I’ve read about the hordes of books she poured over in her research, as well as the reams of interviews she conducted and countless hours that she spent on location for each of her books. No matter how many times I read her biographies, however, I still find it difficult to fathom how she turned all her notes, photos, and experiences into these thrilling adventures that have endured for over fifty years. During the first pages of reading Misty, I made myself savor every last detail, which shows the quality of Henry’s writing. After two chapters, though, I had to give up. I needed to badly to know did Paul and Maureen catch the Phantom, were they able to buy her for themselves, did she learn to love them, and what happened to Misty when Phantom’s mate cried for her.
When I started posting my teasers about Marguerite Henry, a few of my blog followers shared that they too were Henry fans. I hope that my review has brought fond memories to current Henry fans. For everyone else, you owe it to yourself to discover this wonderful author. Misty of Chincoteague is the first of three books about this beloved and renowned horse. After reading them, you might also enjoy countless of Henry’s other horse books.
Reprinted from Allison’s Book Bag. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2014.