Allison's Book Bag

Archive for the ‘Farm’ Category

Horse lovers will appreciate, as will history buffs and fantasy fans. The first title in a trilogy, Eclipsed by Shadow, tells the story of Meagan and her horse Promise, who just might be the “Great Horse” spoken of in legends. When Meagan attempts to rescue Promise from persistent thieves, the two of them end up taking an unexpected ride back through time in this well-written novel aimed at young people.

In many ways, Royce gets everything right. The ever so-critical first chapter is a gut-wrenching one. In it, Meagan and her parents face the choice of whether to save a pregnant mare or her foal. The mare had been raised by the family and had been their constant companion. But the foal would represent her only legacy, as the mare’s health wouldn’t allow her to have a second foal. The third-person omniscient characterization is meticulous. I knew not only how Meagan and her parents felt, but also how the veterinarian, potential buyer, and crafty thieves felt. This deepened my understanding of everyone involved, as well as heightened the suspense. When the thieves revealed that someone was attempting to collect seven interconnected horses, this made me suspicious until the potential buyer confessed her reason for wanting to own all seven horses. Then I instead felt concern for what might happen should she not succeed with her mission. The multiple settings are described in detail. Primitive North America, ancient Rome, nomadic Asia, and finally medieval Europe all come alive. My favorite periods were Rome and Europe. In the former Meagan encounters a suitor and in Europe she finds kindness from monks. In every situation, she also faces danger, which creates many instances of cliff hangers.

What about the novel doesn’t work? Between the first chapter and the time travel, the narrative drags. The three years between when Promise is sent away to pasture with other horses and is brought back to stay with Meagan are condensed into the about seventy pages, leaving me disconnected to the characters. True, it’s in these pages that I learn about that Promise should never be rode, and so my curiosity is piqued. Unfortunately, it’s also in these pages that Meagan turns rebellious, goes on dates, and turns into a typical teen. This plot line lacks spark. The good news is that once Meagan starts to time travel, John shows his talent as a storyteller. My one overriding concern at this point is not enough is revealed of the reasons why Promise could be a dark horse, and so I’m confused about why Meagan continues to time travel. The novel more closely resembles the episodic nature of a television series where each section contains a new story rather than the unified quality of a movie or full-length book. Yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing; I’ve faithfully followed many television series over the years.

Eclipsed by Shadow has won awards for both gifted and reluctant readers. It’s also praised as a novel for readers of all ages. Despite some minor roughness, it’s a diamond in the world of horse books. There are two sequels, and I look forward to finding out what lies in store for Meagan and Promise.

One of my favorite devotionals from my youth is Lessons from a Sheepdog by Phillip Keller. One reason is the unique angle of featuring an animal, instead of random stories about people, to illustrate Christian truths. Another reason is that Keller was well-qualified to write about sheep dogs, himself once being an operator of a sheep ranch. As I read Keller’s inspirational book of parables this week in one sitting, a third reason came to mind, that of the simplicity and brevity of the devotional.

In just over one hundred pages, Keller shares the captivating story of his experience with a beloved border collie, as well as lessons that Lass taught him about having a relationship with God. As part of completing his university training in science and animal husbandry in North America, Keller managed a ranch in British Columbia. Because he didn’t have sufficient funds to start out with cattle, he was obliged to start out with sheep. This left him with the dilemma of needing to find a sheep dog. He found one through an advertisement in the city paper. All the dog did was chase boys on bicycles and race after cars that came by. Even when Keller bought Lass, she initially wouldn’t have anything to do with him. Her trust broken, Lass leaped and snapped at him at every opportunity. But Keller felt she could be redeemed and worked to that end. In one pivotal moment, he even set Lass free on his ranch.

The instance Lass returned to Keller of her own accord, their relationship began. From their adventures together, Keller learned seven lessons about how God desires to interact with mankind. Dedicating each chapter to a lesson, Keller spends about ten to fifteen pages sharing one experience of his with Lass and the revelations about being a Christian that the particular experience taught him. For example, just as in Keller’s first encounter with Lass, God often finds his children “cast in the wrong role, caught in toils of our own intransigence, and misused by the hands of an uncaring master”. The owner of Lass obviously had no idea how to handle a sheep dog. Similarly, individuals are often shaped and directed by the world around them. When Keller rescued Lass, her full potential was able to be released. Similarly, when we allow God to direct our lives, we will discover He has our best interests at heart.

As I reread Lessons from a Sheepdog this week, I smiled in recognition of the various experiences Keller relates, which life has introduced me to over time. For example, volunteering in a no-kill shelter has acquainted me with dogs who need patience for them to find their place in a home. Taking classes at a local dog club has acquainted me with the rules of obedience that Keller taught Lass. Raising a multitude of pets has made me aware of the need for discipline as well as praise. The latter has also showed me many reasons to be proud of how my critters behave and respond to my husband and me. In other words, Lessons from a Sheepdog felt richer upon this reread.

For those walking in the Lord and possessing an appreciation of dogs, this devotional should stir your heart. It lovingly explains how God wants us to follow Him, trust Him, and obey Him. It illustrates through the form of parables how our faithfulness might be tested and why God hates to discipline. Most of all, God wants us to be ready to do anything for Him. Lessons from a Sheepdog will surely inspire!

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

I live in a big old house in Vermont with three scruffy dogs, and I spend a lot of time on the road, mostly visiting my two daughters, as well as schools and libraries. I talk at conferences, and I go visit my publisher in New York. But mostly, I spend my time at home, sketching, writing, and painting. I spend at least an hour a day in the woods, running and walking with my dogs, and I love to putter around outside, planning gardens and cutting down trees. I spend most of my time in the studio, making pictures and writing stories. It’s a pretty good life, and it took me a long time to get here.

Anna Dewdney, About Me

Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama books have all been New York Times bestsellers. In 2011, Llama Llama Red Pajama was chosen as Jumpstart’s Read for the Record book, setting the world’s record for most readings of a particular book on one day, an event which was recorded on the Today show. Dewdney’s work has been adapted into stage plays, dance performances, and musicals, most notably by Dolly Parton at Dollywood. Many other not-for-profit organizations use Dewdney’s books for literacy campaigns and programs too, including the Library of Congress, which featured her work in its 2012 National Book Festival. Dewdney’s work is highly acclaimed by critics and is often recommended on booklists by national reviewers. In 2013, Dewdney spoke at the 2013 Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival. I’ll review her book Llama Llama Mad at Momma tomorrow. Save the date: November 14!


AnnaDewdneyBorn in New Jersey, Anna Dewdney came from a family of five. Dewdney told Scholastic that she had a traditional upbringing; her dad was the bread-winner and her mom stayed home with the three kids.

Her dad was a doctor. He liked to collect books and to read a lot to the family a lot. When Dewdney and her sisters were little, he used to read from A. A. Milne’s POOH books. Dewdney says whenever she reads these books, whether to herself or to her own children or to myself, she hear his voice. Her mom was the caregiver and primary emotional support. She was also a writer.

Dewdney’s older sister, Tanya, went away to school when Dewdney was only seven years old and so the girls didn’t spend much time together when young was little. Now her sister teaches at the Stanford University and writes serious books. Her latest book is When God Talks Back. As for her younger sister, Alice, the two girls liked dressing up and playing pretend.

After high school, Dewdney earned a bachelor’s degree in Art from Wesleyan University. Before her work became well known, Dewdney supported herself with lots of paying jobs: waitress, retail, school bus driver, furniture salesperson, and daycare provider. She also served as a remedial-language, art, and history teacher at a junior boarding school for dyslexic boys for a stint. Her favorite job was delivering the mail. Through it all, Dewdney drew pictures and wrote.


In 2005, Dewdney gained critical acclaim for Llama Llama Red Pajama, the first book which she both wrote and illustrated. Why a llama? Dewdney chose the unusual character of a llama because of the funny face and the sound of the word. She explained to Scholastic, “When my children were little, we would drive around our town in Vermont and when we saw cows, I would moo. When we saw chickens, I would cluck. When we saw sheep, I’d baaaaah… and so on. But when we saw llamas, I had no idea what llamas “said”, so I would say, “Oh, look at the llama! Llama llama llama llama!” Then one day, that became, “Llama Llama red pajama… reads a story with his mama….”

Anna Dewdney draws Photo from peanut butter on the keyboard

Anna Dewdney draws
Photo from Peanut Butter on the Keyboard

According to New Jersey, Dewdney actually wrote her first Llama Llama book when her children were very small, but then put it away because she was writing all kinds of books at the time. When her children were teenagers, Dewdney finally sent out her Llama Llama book and had a crazy experience. After trying to get published for 20 years, she received two offers on the same book on the same day!

When asked if she starts with the writing or the drawing, Dewdney said she starts with a feeling. Her books come from some sort of intense emotional place. After that, she does a lot of word play. Then Dewdney starts to sketch. In an interview with Creative Mom, Dewdney described the process of creating books as being a bit like creating a collage, one thing layering on top of another. Only after she has write/sketch/write/sketch for a long time does she start to put together a book dummy or pretend book.

For inspiration, Dewdney draws on her own memories, such as one she recalled for Scholastic. The very first time Dewdney went to school, she was very nervous. “I have distinct memories of the smell of graham crackers, the feel of my blanket that I brought on that first day, and the dust from the chalkboard. I remember my cubby, and the place where everyone sat for stories…. I think we all experience a little “first-day” shock in a new place.”

Dewdney also spends a lot of time watching people. She shares with Scholastic that there’s a lot in this world that makes her laugh. She particularly appreciates the honesty of young people and their willingness to be silly. Of course, she also had her own children for inspiration. Then there are her three goofy dogs. And there are all her young relatives.

When Dewdney started out as an artist, she used to draw in pencil in sketch books. Now she uses a touch screen and transfers her sketches to it. From there, she’ll print out her drawings and trace them onto canvas. The actual oil painting, she still does on canvas. To her, it feels like having the best of both worlds.

In response to a question posed by Creative Mom about how it feels to be an established author, Dewdney shared that in a sense, nothing is different. She still does the same old things she always did; mother her children, run in the woods with my dogs, putter around her garden. In another sense, now she gets paid for her pictures, signs books, and sometimes sees a giant Llama “puppet” walking around. Ultimately though, Dewdney says:

The most important thing to know about me, really, is that I’m a mom.

Anna Dewdney, About Me

I had just finished writing Justin Morgan Had a Horse, and wanted the best horse artist in the world to illustrate it. So I went to the library, studied the horse books, and immediately fell in love with the work of Will James and Wesley Dennis. When I found out that Will James was dead, I sent my manuscript to Wesley Dennis.

–Marguerite Henry, Dear Readers and Riders

Born 1903 in Massachusetts, Dennis grew up on a farm on Cape Cod. During his childhood, he enjoyed drawing pictures of surrounding animals along with his older brother. At age seventeen, he set out for Boston, where he found illustration jobs with several department stores. After his brother convinced him to try to make a living drawing horses, Dennis began sketching racetrack winners and gained some success with portrait commissions from the owners. Deciding to further his education, Dennis traveled to France to study with an expert on horse anatomy.

Dennis_FlipThe 1940’s brought more changes to his life. First, he married Dorothy Schiller Boggs. Second, he published his first book, Flip, about a pony. His illustrations attracted author Marguerite Henry and thus began a 20-year collaboration which resulted in the publication of 15 books.

You can read more about this relationship in The Illustrated Marguerite Henry, a tribute written by Henry to the “artists who have made my characters come alive.” The idea to write the book arose as a result of curious letters from fans who wanted to know:

  • Which of you gets the idea for the story line, the illustrator or the writer?
  • Do you sketch rough pictures for the artist to follow?
  • Does he use live people and animals for his models or do you send photographs?
  • Do you work together on location or separately?

The just over one hundred pages of The Illustrated Marguerite Henry contains numerous black-and-white sketches alternating with full-color pictures, all from the artists of her books.


The first chapter is a profile of illustrator Wesley Dennis. In it, Henry writes that a first-time visitor to his home would be either terrified or overjoyed, depending on how the visitor felt about animals. Dennis owned geese, crow, peacocks, and even an emu.

Henry goes onto share other tidbits of her illustrator friend, such as the fact that their love of animals were about the only way the two were alike. Dennis resembled the swift thorough breed, while she was more like the plodding workhorse. Many times, he had the illustrations done for a chapter, long before Henry had finished the text.

The two both worked on location and collaborated on what illustrations to use. Dennis drew as many pictures as he were needed to tell the story. If a picture seemed more important than the text she had written, Henry would actually cut from it her story.

His library boasted a set of National Geographic, which he never parted with. Dennis found everything in them he needed to create his art. When they failed him, he resorted to illusion. On the rare occasion that Henry could lure him into a public library, he would stand in awe at the sheer number of published books. Yet this never stopped him from illustrating them; instead it seemed to motivate him.


Dennis lived all his life by the sea. Even so, he wanted to draw Misty on location. The ponies made natural subjects. People on the other hand became self-conscious. The two developed a routine, whereby Henry asked leading questions which inspired a variety of emotions, while Dennis would make lightning-quick sketches. The two also worked together to take photos from different vantage points.



Dennis is responsible for suggesting this story. Walter Chrysler had asked him to do a portrait of the famous sire for the letterhead of his stationery. He planned to use it at his stud farms where he raised Arabians. Dennis disliked research and sent his sister-in-law to the library to find a likeness of the stallion who was foaled in 1724. The ups and downs of the stallion’s life intrigued both Dennis and Henry so much that they decided to tackle another book together.

When they came to the climax of King of the Wind, neither were satisfied with his first painting. Henry writes that the design was too simple. “It lacked color and a credible setting.” Henry sought out old and rare books at the Chicago Public Library. She never found the picture she wanted, but instead pieces of description gleaned from dozens of books helped the scene come to life.


As part of her research for Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Henry and her husband explored the Grand Canyon in mid-February, when they were fortunate enough to have the canyon to themselves except for a guide. Henry shares that Dennis was not so lucky. All he encountered was mist and snow. After three days he flew back to Virginia to work on the illustrations. Therefore, in his color artwork, the details of the canyon are shrouded. Because flying back to the canyon proved too expensive, Dennis relied on his watching over and over a movie about the Grand Canyon.


Dennis never signed his sketches or painting except by request. While doing drawings of the world champion trotting mare, Rosalind, for Born to Trot, Dennis became friends with the mare’s owners. He offered to paint a picture for their mantel. The wife didn’t want one, because she’d already heard enough talk of horses. Dennis replied, “No need to”. A month later, a crate arrived, which she opened with mixed feelings. To her relief, inside she found a portrait from Cape Cod of a fisherman.

Besides sharing behind-the-scenes stories, Henry also included correspondence from Dennis. One letter revealed that for the characters in Born to Trot, Dennis modeled their heads in clay and set them up on his drawing board. This proved a big help in getting their likeness in different positions.


Although the above examples suggest that Dennis preferred to work on location, this wasn’t always feasible. For White Stallion of Lipizza, Dennis relied on his magazines and a pictorial volume on Spanish Court Riding School.


A friend of the Dennis family sparked the idea for Black Gold. She told of reading a book, Horses of Destiny, which featured an unforgettable horse. “Coming down the last stretch in his last race, his rear foreleg napped. He faltered a lightning of a second but then drove on–to finish the race.

U-See-It is Black Gold’s dam. Henry shares that as she wrote U-See-It’s part, she became so involved that she ultimately shared spasms of pain as U-See-It strained to give birth to Black Gold. The description was frowned upon by editors and almost deleted. Dennis threw his support behind Henry: “Don’t let them blot out the truth and the beauty. It’s basic to the story. Kids understand these things.”


Although Henry mostly wrote about horses, she also wrote about cats, dogs, and even a fox! Dennis suggested the story behind at least one of their dog books. Hidden in a lengthy favorite article was a nugget about a mongrel puppy belonging to the treasured of a small circus. The two decided to create their own version in a book titled Little or Nothing.

Dennis initially didn’t think he could illustrate a cat book. He called cats the most difficult creatures to draw. When Henry told him that a workhouse could be featured, Dennis relented and turned to his own cat, Midnight, for inspiration. Apparently, Midnight obligingly hissed and spat and howled and purred and played stand-in for the real cat in the book Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin.

Knowing that Dennis preferred working with live models, Henry sent him a fox cub during their work on Cinnabar. The vice-president of Rand McNally gallantly offered to deliver the cub to Dennis. It escaped in his Washington office, where he hid for hours before he tore the place to shreds. When the vice-president finally got the cub to Dennis, the fox received pajamas and an unoccupied rabbit hutch. Alas, the fox escaped again! Henry writes that the next morning, the pajamas were found hanging on a pine tree.


WesleyDennisDennis and Henry worked on two albums together, the first being Album of Horses. One Christmas, the gift from the Dennis to Henry was a decorative tile. The tile depicted a mare and a foal looking out over the half door of their stall. Henry had already delayed work on her horse album twice, allowing other books to interrupt, but the now the album was taking shape and she needed a cover. The tile was it! The painting is considered one of his finest accomplishments.

Henry shares many other anecdotes of their collaboration together on the album. One of my favorites involves the segment on draft breeds ought. Henry suggested to Dennis that it ought to include the English-bred Suffolk Punch. She reports that he got a faraway look and worked in a fever. When he finished the painting, Dennis brought it to the Rand McNally himself. After a long silence, the editor declared that he wanted to hang the painting over his desk where he could see it every day.

While Dennis was becoming established, his brother had already established as a painter of dogs. Morgan therefore was actually commissioned to work on the Album of Dogs with Henry. As fate would have it though, Morgan got sick and Dennis was asked to take over. “Hope you don’t mind,” Dennis wrote Henry. “I’m tickled.”

Capturing the characteristics of so many breeds, as well as trying to indicate their purposes in life, proved a feat. Dennis invited all his friends who owned purebreds to bring them over for a trick-or-treat session. “I felt like the Pied Piper,” Dennis said, “but each dog contributed a bone to the Album of Dogs.”


Dennis died at the age of sixty-three in 1966. After his death, Henry thought she’d never write again. And for a year, she didn’t. But then the story of Wild Horse Annie came into her life. So began Henry’s search for another illustrator. She ended up working with three in her remaining lifetime.

Robert Lougheed had painted a Christmas card with an old-time range of horses which Henry believed looked as if they might have been straight out of Annie’s world. She approached Lougheed with half a manuscript. He turned her down, saying he was a painter and not an illustrator. With more assurance than she felt, Henry suggested he do his large-scale color illustrations for her book and then send the originals to wherever. A partnership was formed. Some of their correspondence is included in The Illustrated Marguerite Henry.

Next Henry worked with Lynd Ward. His credits included writing six novels in woodcuts without words, studying for a year at the National Academy for Graphic Arts in Germany, and traveling the Italian countryside. He had also won the Caldecott for The Biggest Bear, along with several other awards. He was the perfect choice to illustrate Gaudenzia, the Pride of the Palio (also known as The Wildest Horse Race in the World).

After finishing this project together, Henry learned that one of Ward’s earliest memories was of a student in his father’s seminary class drawing pictures to entertain him. It was the first time Ward had ever seen anyone draw and it fascinated him. Henry also noted that Lynd works from observation, perception, and imagination. Aside from rough sketching, he has never worked from a live model.

Her final collaboration occurred with the then young Rich Rudish. He had grown up spending hours copying the work of Wesley Dennis! One day, Henry received a fan letter from him. He enclosed some drawings, which she filed as “Promising” but eventually forgot about. Then a friend sent her a greeting card depicting a horse in action. The artist signature was…. Rich Rudish! After she began seeing his name on distinguished horse magazines, Henry tracked him down and asked him about doing some illustrations. In spite of a busy schedule which included riding, exhibiting, and judging (the ways in which he supported himself), he “leaped all hurdles” to work with Henry.


NewfoundlandPonyI’m cheating to include Newfoundland Pony by Dennis Flynn in my round-up of picture books, because it’s actually more of a coffee table book. However, during my many searches in tourist shops and bookstores, it’s the only book I’ve found on Newfoundland’s first heritage animal. And so I’m asking you to indulge me as I tell you about a unique animal which once numbered over twelve thousand but then almost faced extinction when in the 1980’s the number dwindled to less than one hundred. It’s now on the critical list.

Newfoundland Pony

Newfoundland Pony (Photo credit: Product of Newfoundland)

What makes Newfoundland Pony by Dennis Flynn a coffee table book? According to Wikipedia, a coffee table book is intended to sit in an area where guests are entertained and to inspire conversation. Coffee table books tend to be nonfiction of a larger size and visually oriented, rather than portable and of heavy subject matter. They also have distinctive lay-flat pages. All of this accurately describes Newfoundland Pony, including the fact that almost every page contains multiple photos with captions. For the most part, the photos do not seem to be arranged in any particular order. Certain spreads consist of a historical photo contrasted with a current photo, which together illustrate that the once-invaluable ponies have been replaced by technology. As one reaches the middle of the book, the photos seem to more organized. There’s a collection grouped by location, such as the French island of Miquelon and the province of Ontario, a section called “Horsin’ Around” which shows these ponies in their more playful moments, and a final grouping titled “Behind the Scenes” which provides brief biographies of advocates for the pony’s survival. Through photos of his own and from archives, Dennis Flynn has created a beautiful photo essay about an animal once valuable to Newfoundland and still worthy of our respect.

What information can one glean from the Newfoundland Pony by Dennis Flynn? As recent as the last century, families were using the ponies to “plough the ground, gather wood, rake hay, collect kelp, harvest crops, spread capelin for fertilizer on meadows, move freight, and for nearby deliveries”.  In other words, for people in rural Newfoundland owning a pony wasn’t about keeping a pet. Sadly, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Newfoundland pony fell upon dark times. Once their usefulness ended, the ponies became a luxury that many families couldn’t afford, and many owners sold them to the mainland horse meat industry. By the 1990’s, this hard-working and intelligent animal, who at times had even saved lives, was almost annihilated. If not for the efforts of a few dedicated pony groups who convinced the Newfoundland government to create the Heritage Animal Act, the Newfoundland pony have disappeared into oblivion. Today it’s numbers have rebounded to over three hundred. It also has found new purposes, such as being used in Ontario to train young riders for equestrian shows. If you’re interested in seeing these hardy creatures in real life, Newfoundland Pony contains a map of rescuers and breeders.

English: Labrador Husky puppy laying in some m...

English: Labrador Husky puppy laying in some moss. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why should anyone outside of Newfoundland care about obscure and obsolete livestock? When reading this book, many of my thoughts revolved around animal welfare and protection, an issue which effects everyone. I began to think of the classic Black Beauty, which has been described as the most influential anti-cruelty novel of all time. Although there isn’t any indication that the Newfoundland pony was ill-treated during its service to families, it should be of equal concern that in the face of progress it struggles to maintain an existence. According to Horsetalk, a fact startling to me is that the Labrador husky is facing a similar dilemma. The dog was bred specifically for heavy, long-haul sledding in neighboring Labrador. Now that snowmobiles have made it obsolete as well, it is “not uncommon for packs of the dogs to be destroyed by the same communities that once relied upon them”. We’re not talking here about the demise of the fountain pen, record players, or other inanimate objects for which we might feel nostalgia, but about  unique creatures that could still die out without continued protection.

As I browsed Newfoundland Pony by Dennis Flynn, I also felt struck by how keen it would be if this information were presented in a picture book format. At least two such books do exist! Coincidentally, they share the same title: Newfoundland Pony Tales. One is by Marion Quinton-Brake who still lives in Newfoundland and the other is by the deceased Andrew Fraser whose book The Newfoundland Pony: The Lone Member of the Moorland Family of Horses in North America is considered the Bible on this breed. Has anyone read either of these picture books or know of other examples? Finally, to conclude my review, if you wish to read more about the author Dennis Flynn, the Compass has written an article about him called The Endangered Newfoundland Pony.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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