‘For Love of A Horse’ : Or, quite possibly, one of the best pages ever in children’s literature

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(Isn’t that just – perfect? Isn’t it a breathtaking page? It’s from ‘For Love of A Horse‘ by Patricia Leitch, and God, this book is everything, but everything and I am rereading and I am in love once more. How wondrous it is that there are books out there that just sing out their world to you, every time, and every time feels like the first time you’ve read it even though the pages are dogeared and worn. Pages, such perfect pages with such beauty amidst them.)

For Love Of A Horse : Patricia Leitch

For Love of a Horse (Jinny, #1)For Love of a Horse by Patricia Leitch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been in the mood for some classics recently. And not your Oliver Twist type of classics. These are my classics, my stories that built me, that made me who I am today and they are, I hope, stories that may do the same to you.

For Love Of A Horse, the first in the Jinny books, is quite possibly my teenage heart spilled over pages. And it’s quite possibly yours, and your neighbour’s and your cousins and your aunties.

The horse phase borders all our lives. It is a phase a world of people go through; that hungry, desperate urge to stand at the edge of the field and make that curling click with your tongue.

It’s been written about, of course, already. The Flicka books (which start with My Friend Flicka) and the Silver Brumby series (the first – The Silver Brumby) are beautiful, wild books that take the horse story and fling it into realms distant and thrilling, realms populated by horses called Thunderhead and Baringa and Banner and Boon Boon.

But Jinny, the redheaded eleven year old living on the moors in Scotland, trumps all of them and does so quite brilliantly.

A lot of that is due to Leitch’s Km Peyton-esque prose. Leitch writes with an understated acuity, which occasionally slides into paragraphs of poetical love. The following quote comes from a moment at the circus. Jinny, our lead, has just sat through an act with rosinbacks horses – their ‘patient watery eyes … their scarred legs and sunken necks’. And now, following that, Jinny meets Shantih for the first time:

‘The horse was a pure-bred Arab. She came, bright and dancing, flaunting into the ring, her tail held high over her quarters , her silken mane flowing over the crest of her neck. Her head was fine-boned and delicate, with the concave line of the true Arab horse. Her dark, lustrous eyes were fringed with long lashes and the nostrils wrinkling her velvet muzzle were huge black pits. She moved around the ring like a bright flame, her pricked ears as delicate as flower petals. Her legs were clean and unblemished and her small hooves were polished ivory. After the dull ache of the rosinbacks, she was pure fire.’

You could give me a thousand hideous chapters, a thousand hideous paragraphs, if you gave me moments like this every now and then. Moments which bring a catch to my throat and remind me of the girl I was and still am and forever will be.

Leitch is very, very talented. And the Jinny books should be, if you’re pony-mad or know somebody who is, mandatory.

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An esoteric and distinctly biased list of 50 children’s books you probably really should read (part four)

The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot

I love these. They’re the ugly duckling tale of Mia Thermopolis who, during that first year of awkward High School-ness, discovers she’s actually the heir to the throne of Genovia. Essentially, Mia’s a princess. She’s a funny, gorgeously engaging narrator who you can’t help but root for. Plus Micheal is *adorable* in the books and probably my first guy-book-crush.

Similar to : the rest of the series

A Horse Called Wonder – Joanna Campbell

These books blew my mind. We only got the first four or so in my local bookshop and then, on a family holiday to America, I discovered the truth. There weren’t just four books in the series. THERE WERE MILLIONS. This horsey saga of life on a racing farm spanned generations of people, of horses, and of hot jockey types. It was like Sunset Beach (look it up on Youtube) and The Saddle Club all in one. It was AMAZING.

Similar to : Sunset Beach + horses. Like I said, you really need to look it up.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

A classic. It’s the story of a caterpillar who eats loads of stuff, getting bigger all the time, before eventually turning into a butterfly. There’s a lovely simplicity to the story, coupled with lots of holes for fingers to be poked through, and it practically begs to be read out loud.

Similar to : Herve Tullet / Mr Men

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Oh, this book. It’s written in tight, restrained prose full of spooky horror at every step. It’s unnerving, and it’s edgy and it’s brilliant. A family is murdered by “the man Jack” but the toddler survives. He finds himself in a graveyard, there adopted by the resident ghosts, and named Bod. Bod grows up in the graveyard but the man Jack is never far behind – and he wants to finish what he started.

Similar to : When you walk home at night, and hear a twig crack, but there’s nobody there.

Troy – Adele Geras

This is a very beautifully written book, all from the perspective of women locked in Troy during the great siege. Geras has  a gift of writing female characters very, very well and handles them with great restraint. Even though most of us already know how this story ends, you can’t help but be swept up in it again.

Similar to : Ithaka (Adele Geras)

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague – Marguerite Henry

This is one of the most wildly romantic horse stories out there. The wild horses of Chincoteague Island are round up, and their colts sold off. One of those colts is Misty. I remember this book genuinely blowing my mind – and there’s a whole saga of them to enjoy.

Similar to : Black Beauty

For Love of a Horse – Patricia Leitch

So. You’re eleven. You’re stubborn. You’ve got red hair. You’re moving to the wilds of Scotland. You visit a circus. You see a wild Arabian steed. And then, just as you’re getting near to your new home, you witness a road accident – involving the circus van that carries the selfsame horse. WHAT DO YOU DO? Well, you do what Jinny Manders does and you get your horse and you fight for her. These books are stunning and quite unusual in that they dispense with the blunt practical knowledge that tends to characterise a Pullein-Thompson book and shift towards a mixture of near-pagan mysticism. Amazing books. I want them back.

Similar to : the rest of the series

The Fashionista Books – Sarra Manning

I have a love of America’s Next Top Model. And these books are the books that Tyra wishes she could write, but can’t. Sarra Manning’s series of four books, all taking the viewpoint of different characters, are brilliant. These are sharp, funny, and brilliant books.

Similar to : the Wholahay ANTM incident (aka the best moment ever)

War Horse – Michael Morpurgo

I’ve written of my love for this book before so I’ll try not to rehash things here. Essentially, if you’re at all interested in horses, families, love, heartbreak, emotionally satisfying endings, get to this book asap.

Similar to : Black Beauty (God, Black Beauty really was quite genre-defining wasn’t it!)

Bedknob and Broomsticks – Mary Norton

Mary Norton also wrote the Borrowers but I decided to plump for Bedknob and Broomsticks as my choice for this list. Whilst some elements of B and B read very poorly today for the racist connotations (viz. the Cannibals), it remains a fascinating and intensely readable book. Written in the middle of World War Two (1943), it also has a lot of intriguing social commentary (particularly about life as a single woman) tucked away in between all the hijinks.

Similar to : The Worst Witch