Thursday, August 10, 2017

Horses! The Whole Sky and Shadow of a Doubt

Henson, Heather. The Whole Sky
August 22nd 2017 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sky and her father travel to different horse farms around the country to work, depending on the time of year. With foaling season approaching, they return to the MacIntyre's farm, one that Sky loves because her favorite horse, Poppy is there. She helps her father out a good deal, especially since her homeschooling has suffered after the death of her mother from cancer. She and the owner's grandson, nature-obsessed Archie, are intrigued by the seasonal plague of tent caterpillar's, although Sky is concerned that accidentally ingesting them while grazing might hurt the horses. Sky can understand what the horses are feeling, and they indicate that eating the caterpillars makes their mouths sore. This isn't a big concern until foals begin to arrive, and many of them die. Archie and Sky investigate and are able to help the vets determine the cause of the foals' deaths, and are able to save Poppy's foal. The story was inspired by a real event that occurred on horse farms in 2001, although the author indicates it took much longer to determine the cause in real life.
Strengths: There are lots of good details about taking care of horses, and the medical mystery is interesting. I like to purchase a few horse books every year; although they don't necessarily check out frequenly, there are always a few students interested in horses who want to read a lot of stories about them.
Weaknesses: Not only does Sky's father struggle with the death of the mother, he drinks so heavily dealing with the stress that he has to be hospitalized. Luckily, Sky has a lot of support at the MacIntyre's. I was slightly uncomfortable with assigning psychic, horse-whispering powers to Sky and her father that were related to their cultural background as Irish Pavees. I don't know enough about that culture to tell whether or not this might offend them.
What I really think: This is a solid purchase to add to my fiction collection for fans of Platt's Wind Dancer, Lyne's Catch Rider and Hapka's Horse Diaries series.

James, Skylar. Shadow of a Doubt
April 21st 2015 by Adaptive Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Fyfe lives on a struggling farm near Churchill Downs with her father, the famous jockey Roscoe Flynn, She sells peanuts at the racetrack and her father usually rides for their neighbor, Colonel Epsom. When the Flynn's have a mare die the same night that Epsom's Gilda loses her foal, their animal (named Shadow) stays with Gilda until Epsom flings the horse back at them. Living with the prize winning Gilda, however, has imbued Shadow with the strong desire to race. This comes in handy after Roscoe has a terrible accident during a race. When he is told that he will never ride again, the Colonel not only fires him, but refuses to take him on as an assistant to his trainer AND blackballs him in the racing community so he cannot find a job. Fyfe and her father struggle to make ends meet by farming, but the crops can only come in so fast. When they realize that Shadow is a great racer, they work on training him. Epsom, of course, makes a feeble attempt to take the animal from them, which only strengthens their resolve to make Shadow the best. Things rarely go smoothly, however, and even though Shadow wins a race, Fyfe's attempts at riding end badly twice. How can the Flynns, as well as Shadow, hold on to their dreams of winning the Derby?

There will always be middle grade readers, especially girls, who love a good horse story. Marguerite Henry has always been my go-to writer for these tales, but after 70 years, her books don't hold up as well as they used to. There are some good horse stories that have come out more recently-- Macadoo of the Maury River by Amateau, The Georges and the Jewels series by Smiley, and The outside of a horse by Rorby.

The small line drawings that accompany some of the chapters are rather charming, although I was a bit surprised when the horses started conversing among themselves. This is still a realistic fiction book, since the horses didn't talk to people, and they only discussed topics that horses would discuss.

Epsom reminded me of Mr. Potter from It's a Wonderful Life in his single minded devotion to squashing the Flynn's for no apparently good reason. I definitely envisioned him as Lionel Barrymore in a stuffy suit, complete with bowler hat!

There are lots of details about racing and life at the track, and this seems to be set during a time around the Great Depression. It's not explicitly stated, but Fyfe wears wool pants and has to masquerade as a boy so she isn't disqualified, but there are automobiles. The struggles the small family face are realistic and met with a can-do attitude as well as some ingenuity.

This would definitely be an optional purchase. It uses every trope found in horse books-- dying mares and foals, jockeys unable to ride, bad betting schemes, and then throws in several unlikely reasons for Fyfe to be in bed for protracted periods of time. Not my favorite horse book. Buy a copy of Henson's The Whole Sky instead. I liked the caterpillars in that, and the whole mystery element.


  1. I liked Catch Riders too but why the abundance abusive/alcoholic fathers in horse books?

  2. Clearly, the fathers are dysfunctional because ALL THE MOTHERS ARED DEAD! Yes, very tired of that!