The Books He Took

movingFinished with college and eager to start his new career, my son has moved halfway across the country.

Besides his laptop, tablet, multiple gaming platforms, video games, board games, clothes, textbooks, and camping gear, he took boxes of his favorite books–as well as a bookcase to hold them all.

So at this is the time of year, when lists of “Best Books”are published everywhere, I thought I’d share some of my son’s best books—the books he took. They span the years from first grade to adult.

The Books He Took

  1. Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. (He read this over and over again from first grade on.)
  2. The Secret Knowledge of Grownups and The Secret Knowledge of Grownups: The Second File by the late Caldecott Winner, David Wisniewski. (Funny for kids and adults.)
  3. Dinotopia by James Gurney
  4. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. (For months after reading this book my son wanted to go off to live alone in the woods.)
  5. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. (Thanks to his fourth grade teacher who required book reports, this turned out to be a keeper.)
  6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Borrowed from his sister and never returned.)
  7. Holes by Louis Sachar
  8. The Eye, the Ear, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
  9. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by J.K. Rowling
  11. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
  12. Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
  13. The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
  14. World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks
  15. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  16. The Far Side by Gary Larson
  17. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide by Douglas Adams
  18. Under the Dome by Stephen King
  19. The Heritage of Shannara series by Terry Brooks
  20. Numerous books by his all time favorite author, the late Terry Pratchett

My son has an e-reader and plenty of electronic gadgets at his disposal for reading. But there is nothing like the comfort of a physical book. Electronic devices morph and change rapidly. The look of the text changes. When you open a physical book, the words are in the same place on the same page where you left them several months or several years ago. Tactile senses awaken memory and a sense of well-being  thumbing through the pages of a well-worn book.

It’ll feel like coming home.

In Search of Misty, Chincoteague’s Famous Pony

King of the Wind,Misty of Chincoteague, Justin Morgan Had a Horse
King of the Wind, Misty of Chincoteague, Justin Morgan Had a Horse

One of my favorite childhood books was Marguerite Henry’s Newbury Honor Book, Misty of Chincoteague. Earlier this month, I had the good fortune to see the wild ponies Henry made famous. I wasn’t able to interview these ponies as I did Simon, the painting pony. The Chincoteague ponies are wild after all. Many of them are “painted ponies,” but they don’t paint like Simon.

These ponies are technically a “managed” herd residing on Assateague Island. In July, they are they rounded up by the “saltwater cowboys” during the annual Pony Penning Days immortalized by Marguerite Henry’s novel.

Wild Ponies of Chincoteague taken September 6. 2015

At other times of the year, the ponies can be seen at lookouts throughout the beautiful Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. An even better way to see them is by boat. (We used Daisey’s Island Cruises.) With the help of a terrific guidebook, The Field Guide to the Chincoteague Wild Ponies by Kelly Lidard, I was able to identify a few of the ponies. The painted ponies are much easier to recognize from a distance than the bays, buckskins, chestnuts, and palominos.

Misty's Hoof print outside the Island Theater on Main Street in Chincoteague
Misty’s Hoof print outside the Island Theater on Main Street in Chincoteague

The real Misty was quite a celebrity in her day. She made public appearances at schools and libraries all over the country and even attended an American Library Association meeting. (Click link to read all about it and view photos!) A movie was made from the book in 1961, and when the movie premiered at the local  Island Theater, Misty left her hoof prints in the cement!

When a storm in 1962 pummeled the Eastern Shore ripping up houses and claiming half the herd of wild ponies on Assateague, it appeared the annual Pony Penning Day would be a casualty as well. Misty came to the rescue. She and her foal, Stormy, went on tour making personal appearances at theaters holding benefits for the Chincoteague community.

Miss Molly Inn
Miss Molly Inn

Today Main Street in Chincoteague is full of Misty memorabilia. From the Miss Molly’s Inn where Marguerite Henry stayed to Misty’s hoof prints pressed into the cement sidewalk outside the Island Theater, the spirit of Misty is everywhere. I found a $400 signed first edition of Misty of Chincoteague was at Sundial Books on Main Street. It’s still in the glass case with other rare books if you care to have a look.

Misty at the Chincoteague Museum
Misty at the Chincoteague Museum

More memorabilia and the taxidermied remains of the real Misty and Stormy reside at the Museum of Chincoteague. This attraction might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and according to A Pictorial Life Story of Misty, it wasn’t back in 1972 when Misty died at the grand old age of 26. Some people approved and some didn’t. Personally, I liked the statue of Misty on Main Street better than the stuffed Misty, but the museum is well worth the trip! So many interesting artifacts!

Misty Statue on Main Street
Misty Statue on Main Street

So what is it about Misty of Chincoteague or any children’s book that hold a place in our hearts decades after we read it? The characters? The plot? The love of horses?

Original book cover
Original book cover

What enchants young readers today? It’s been sixty years since Misty of Chincoteague was published, and it is still selling well enough to be on the shelves of independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble and featured on Internet retailers like Amazon.

I reread Misty with the eye of a writer and found what appealed to me then and now. Here’s my list.

 

 

  1. Agency: Both Paul and his sister, Maureen, have quite a bit of freedom to think and act upon their desire to own Phantom and her foal, Misty. Their parents are in China, and the children live with their grandparents who encourage them to go for their dreams. As Maureen explains early on in the story, “grandparents aren’t as strict as parents.” No helicopter parents here! Writers always need a way to get adults out of the way, so their young protagonists act with their own agency.
  2. Teamwork: The high-spirited siblings labor together to raise money for Phantom and Misty. Together they tame and train Phantom. Both are equally capable of riding Phantom in the annual pony races. Paul enters the race because of a wishbone, and not because his sister isn’t as good a rider.
  3. Love of Horses: The bond between horses and humans is an enduring theme.
    The true story of Misty and her life as a celebrity
    The true story of Misty and her life as a celebrity

    Henry wrote numerous books about horses and animals. Two were Newbury Honor books and one won the Newbury. The real life pony, Misty inspired Misty of Chincoteague. As Henry wrote in her book, A Pictorial Life Story of Misty, it was love at first sight for Misty. “The first time I really saw Misty, my heart bumped up into my throat until I thought I’d choke. It was a moment to laugh and cry and pray over, especially if all your childhood you’d wanted a pony and couldn’t have one on account of your rheumatic fever.” Henry’s passion for horses and animals comes out in all her books.

  4. Illustrations: When I was young, some teachers frowned on reading books with pictures past a certain age. So I loved having a book with chapters and illustrations by the talented Wesley Dennis. Even today, I am charmed by the illustration of young Maureen Beebe jumping over a hurdle bareback with bare feet in a dress. Oh, what freedom!

Marguerite Henry wrote fifty-nine books, two were Newbury Honor books, and one won the Newbury. Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal were my favorites. Today, I adore A Pictorial Life Story of Misty. It’s hard to find, but well worth reading about the life of Misty, Marguerite Henry, and the impact of her books.

The spirit of Misty is alive and well in Chincoteague!