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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rainy Day Rescue and The Quarter Horse Foal by Inda Schaenen as guest-reviewed by beserene

Awhile ago, I received a package of books in the mail from Running Press Kids, and while I appreciate the offer to get free books, these weren't exactly the kind of books that I read. My good friend and fellow reader, beserene, can sum it up best:

...So he got these two books and when he opened the package he had to laugh because obviously the publisher had not really paid any attention to the type of stuff he usually reviews. Girly horse books are not his thing. Fortunately, he has a friend who, once upon a time, used to live on girly horse books (yeah, that would be me) so he took the opportunity to pass the book (tee hee) and I agreed to review them. Here is the result:

Rainy Day Rescue: Saddle Wise, Book 1 and The Quarter Horse Foal: Saddle Wise, Book 2 by Inda Schaenen

The problem with Inda Schaenen’s horse-and-girl series is that it can’t really decide what it wants to be. The first book, Rainy Day Rescue, starts with the premise that the main character, a girl named April, has been terrified of horses her whole life because her parents were killed in a horse-riding accident when she was just a toddler. 'Okay,' the reader thinks, knowing by the cover and the series title that this is a horse-and-girl book, 'this will be interesting to see how she progresses through her fear and overcomes it by the end.' But then the book resolves April's fear in just a few more pages, making references to her being a "natural" with horses, and suddenly that lifelong fear, and its plotline, have disappeared. Wait, what? That was my reaction. Still, there is more book to go, so the reader carries on. 'Okay,' the reader thinks again, 'the expected didn't happen – that can be a good thing – so perhaps this will be about the girl struggling to get her horse, or to build a relationship with it, or maybe to achieve some horsemanship challenge.' But these issues are also resolved quickly and easily.

In fact, "easy" pretty much characterizes each new plot point in this slim book – every time the reader anticipates a challenge, it turns out to be no big deal. And that really becomes the disappointment of the series (because the second book, The Quarter Horse Foal is more of the same). Most of its time is spent on overt didacticism – April reflecting on herself and her relationship with her aunt, with occasional diversions to teach unsubtle lessons about patience, tolerance, etc. – and the ins-and-outs of daily horse care, which is necessary, but not necessarily thought through here. If this is a series for girls who already love horse-and-girl books, for those who started reading Marguerite Henry's Big Book of Horses at the tender age of 4 (okay, that would be me), then the instructions in horse care are old hat, and spending so much time on them (and those all-too-convenient lessons) is, frankly, boring. If, however, this is a series for girls who are not already acquainted with horses, or even for those who are a little afraid of them, then the details are good, but the instant-cure approach to that fear and the easy horse-and-girl heroism that so quickly follows will probably leave them somewhat alienated. I think this is a case of trying to be all things to all people (or at least all girls) and unfortunately falling somewhat flat.

There are some redeeming moments, of course. The interactions between April and her aunt, including their inside joke of "sometimes all a person can do is…" are sweet and several of the side characters are quite charming (though there are a couple of characterization inconsistencies between the two books, especially with Mr. McCann). The horse trailer accident at the beginning of the first book is vividly and cinematically written, and there are other moments of wonderful description which allow the reader to "see" the world that Schaenen has envisioned. There are also fun allusions to the classic horse stories that have gone before – Black Beauty, National Velvet, and others. Unfortunately, mentioning those brilliant classics, while obviously intended to direct girls to read those books (again with the unsubtle didacticism) or to cozy up to those who have, also sets up an inevitable comparison: those are great novels; this is not. It seems like this series was written as a prescription for a struggling reader who likes horses but doesn’t have the consuming passion of most horse girls, or in the line of 19th century girls books that aim to instruct more than entertain. If those are your intentions (and good luck with them), this series is fine, but there are better horse-and-girl books, including chapter books and series, out there.

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