Category: Guest Post

Horse books for Kids: True stories and Favorite Fiction

Horse Stories for Kids: True Stories and Favorite Fiction

Deb Aronson HeadshotFor this month’s Kidlit book roundup, I’m happy to welcome my friend, Deb Aronson. Deb was one of my first writer friends; she welcomed me into our local writer community way back when I was just beginning to learn the ropes. Somehow she stayed my friend despite seeing those early draft.  *Shudder*

We’re still friends all these years later and maybe one day I’ll even let her convince me to get on her sailboat. (Maybe…)

Today Deb shares some of her favorite books about horses. Deb knows a thing or two about horses – she wrote the book Alexandra the Great: The Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack. Take it away, Deb!

Book Cover Art: Alexandra the Great: the Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack by Deb Aronson


 

Many classic horse stories celebrate the magical connection between humans and horses, of course. Some of my favorites include My Friend Flicka, Misty of Chincoteague, and War Horse. But with racehorse stories, there is an added layer of human and horse joined in an effort to realize their full potential. To me, these stories have a special energy.

Book Cover art: MY FRIEND FLICKA   Book cover art: Misty of Chincoteague    Book Cover Art: War Horse

Do You Love Sports Stories? Then give these books a try.

Racehorse stories are, at their heart, sports stories. Those that excel are just as Olympian in their achievements as swimmer Michael Phelps or gymnast Simone Biles. There is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. There is the love and care the horse’s human handlers feel for their special horses. They communicate deeply, even if they do it without words. Granted there are also tragic tales at the racetrack, such as when a horse breaks down from a bad step, or when a jockey falls and is permanently injured. There is risk. But for every story of risk there is also the possibility of redemption.

Rachel Alexandra At the Kentucky Oaks
The filly, Rachel Alexandra, at the Kentucky Oaks

If you hesitate to read about racehorses because of the stories you hear about them being mistreated, I would say to you that those stories are aberrations. True horsemen and horsewomen do not do that to their charges. They care deeply about their horses, even more deeply in some cases than for their human connections. Not surprisingly, you will not read children’s books about those kinds of people.

 

The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him by Lawrence Scanlan

Tween Nonfiction

Book Cover Art for: The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him

So, let me tell you about some of my favorite racehorse stories. One is The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him, by Lawrence Scanlan (Harper Collins). Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973. He won the last race in the series, the Belmont, by a shattering 31 lengths and his time remains the American record for 1.5 miles on dirt more than four decades later. Scanlan does a great job showing Secretariat’s laid-back personality and his love of racing. It comes as no surprise that any true story about a horse will also tell the story of that horse’s handlers. In Scanlan’s book, we enjoy learning about Secretariat’s devoted groom, Eddie Sweat, and the special bond the two of them had.

 

Come on Seabiscuit! by Ralph Moody

Tween Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Come on, Seabiscuit!

Another inspiring story is Come on Seabiscuit! by Ralph Moody (University of Nebraska Press). There have been many books written about Seabiscuit, including the highly acclaimed adult book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand, not to mention a movie. Moody’s book is targeted for upper middle grade readers and has several pencil sketches, though no photographs.  One reason Seabiscuit’s story is so grand is because it is truly one of redemption. Set in the 1930s, it is a story of how the love, expertise and careful attention of trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollard created a bond so wonderful that Seabiscuit changed from an ornery, nervous, injured and slow racehorse to a gentle, calm, strong champion who beat War Admiral, winner of the Triple Crown and the acknowledged champion horse of the country.

 

Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse by Meghan McCarthy

Picture Book Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse

Although Come on Seabiscuit is for older readers, a more recent picture book by Meghan McCarthy, Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) would be a great read-aloud for younger readers. McCarthy’s illustrations are delightful and she does a great job of telling the story of Seabiscuit’s match race with War Admiral.

American Pharoah: Triple Crown Champion by Shelley Fraser Mickle

Tween, Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: American Pharaoh: Triple Crown Champion

In American Pharoah: Triple Crown Champion (Aladdin), by Shelley Fraser Mickle, we learn the backstory of the 2015 Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. Mickle tells American Pharoah’s story in such detail you can imagine being there in the stall with the even-tempered stallion. I also came away from the story with a better understanding of many of the humans connected with American Pharoah, from famous trainer, Bob Baffert, and jockey Victor Espinoza, to owner Ahmed Zayat, who I especially came to appreciate.

 

Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack by Gare Joyce

Tween, Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack

And finally, I recently enjoyed a book about a less well-known racehorse, Northern Dancer.  In 1964 he was, as the book says, “the biggest newsmaker in the country’s sporting scene.” Northern Dancer is another story of an unlikely hero. He was not a regal-looking racehorse, but more in the model of Seabiscuit: chunky, short and plain looking. Having been bred in Canada, U.S. racing fans tended to underestimate him. Gare Joyce, the author of Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack, describes him as “a horse with a competitive spirit and a lot of heart, so he was able to outrun a great number of better bred and more imposing horses.” Who doesn’t love an underdog story?!

 

Alexandra the Great: The True Story of the Record-Breaking Filly Who Ruled the Racetrack by Deb Aronson

Tween, Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Alexandra the Great: the Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack by Deb Aronson

 

Although all these books are about male horses, I wouldn’t want you to think there are not accomplished fillies in the racing world too. However, the surprising thing is how few children’s books there are about them. One of the few is Alexandra the Great: The True Story of the Record-Breaking Filly Who Ruled the Racetrack (Chicago Review Press), written by yours truly. Because she raced against, and beat, male horses in three major races, hers is truly a girl power story. This book is the only one of those reviewed that has full-color photographs throughout the text.

 

See Racehorses in action!

If you enjoy these stories I would also recommend you watch some videos of their most famous races; these thoroughbreds are running machines!

Here is Rachel Alexandra winning the Preakness.


Horse books for kids

 

20+ Gifts for Young Writers

20+ gifts for young writers

Juliann Caveny headshotA month ago, a friend asked for suggestions of gifts for her young writer. I immediately knew that fellow Illinois flatlander Juliann Caveny was the perfect person to write this post.

I first met Juli at the 2017 SCBWI Illinois Words in the Woods retreat. Juli has a warm and vivacious personality that oozes out onto her manuscript pages. Juli writes for children of all ages, from preschoolers to young adults, and has a soft spot for quiet, yet powerful stories about friendship and family.

She’s also a passionate teacher with a knack for nurturing budding writers. (True fact: while talking with her, I mentally catalog ideas to use with my own kids.) She also makes an impressive Du Iz Tak costume.

You can read Juli’s full bio on her agent’s webpage here and check out Juli’s blog here. Or connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Lucky for all of us, Julie agreed to write this post. (I didn’t even have to twist her arm!) Take it away Juli!


20 Gifts for Young Writers

@julicaveny

I have been writing since I was six. That year, for Christmas, I was given my first diary. It wasn’t much later that I “published” my first book. (I typed the entire draft using a Brother portable and recycled dot-matrix printer paper, illustrated each page by hand and used leftover scraps of yarn to bind the book. It was beautiful.)

While some of the tools of the trade have changed since I was young, many have not.

Writers of all ages still get excited with a new package of pens, a clean, ready-to-be-written-in notebook, and the perfect, quiet corner. As a teacher and a mom of three, I’ve supplied many budding authors with practical, fun and inspiring presents. Luck for us, the rest of the world has caught on to our obsession and now there are tons of great gift options for writers, young to old.

These are a few of my favorites. I hope these ideas inspire you to find the perfect gift for the young author (or adult author) on your list this season!

 

Gifts for Where a Writer Writes

Idea board - framed, fabric board with crisscrossed ribbons to hold pictures, etc. in place.Lightbox with the words "Everything Lightbox Mini"Pillow with lines to look like writing paper

1. Inspiration/Idea Boards – When I was growing up, my parents installed a full-wall of cork-board. I was able to put anything I wanted on that wall and rearrange it without causing damage. Idea boards are important to writers and illustrators. No matter how big or small, give your young author a space to create.

2. Do Not Disturb Sign/Light Box – If you want to avoid having your child write in pen on their door, get them a sign!

3. Pillows/Comforter – Sweet Dreams! This is a gift that we’ve actually DIYed. (Don’t forget to check out the comforter as a set!)

 

Gifts for the Writer on the Go

Noise canceling headphone with a black and purple galaxy pattern on ear pieces

4.  Noise Canceling Headphones—All my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) student writers have great headphones. It’s a must-have for working in busy spaces or in the car. These are some cute ones, but if you want to look around, make sure the noise canceling rating is on the high end… 20-30dB.

5. Small Backpack—I really like personalized gifts for writers. Make sure any bag or backpack you get for a writer fits their needs—i.e. Do you need room for a laptop? Or notebooks?

6. A Reusable Water Bottle – Authors “in the zone” tend to forget about food and drink. Don’t let your young writer go thirsty!

7. A sturdy and fun Pen/Pencil Pouch – A MUST HAVE! When I’m traveling, I don’t want to have to rely on the pen that was left in the council. My favorites are always kept in a special pouch.

 

Gifts for What a Writer Wears

 

Mary jane-type shoes - one decorated to look like white notebook paper, the other decorated like the cover of a black and white composition notebookCustom printed socksPeter pan infinity scarf

8. Fun Shoes – There’s the DIY– and then there’s these fancy treats from Hot Chocolate. (They come in small girls’ sizes and adult sizes too!)

9. Personalized Socks A friend bought me some personalized socks. Add your kiddo’s favorite book quote, or simply have WRITER AT WORK emblazed on the backs!

10. Scarf/GlovesMore for the teen writer and lover of classics, but you can also check out their selection of headbands and totes!

Brightly colored stocking capJuli Caveny in her thinking cap

11. “Thinking” Cap – Caps and hats are always popular with kid writers. (Often I catch my students with their hoodies over their heads as they are tucked in a corner, writing.) I call mine my “thinking cap” and add buttons and details along the way. Look for unique words, phrases or pins to add. Find this one at Kohl’s.

 

Gifts for What a Writer Needs (Old-School)

black typewriterPersonalized notebook: teal background, image of a unicorn in a jar with the text "The fantastical imaginings of Lila Rook"Diary with a lock: cover design shows chains and the words "Do Not Enter"

12. TypewriterBring back the thrill of the click-click on a no-tech “qwerty” keyboard. Another way to have the same feel, for a much cheaper price is to try a used AlphaSmart. These were used in schools (before the iPad) and are great for on-the-go. They are battery operated, store up to twelve drafts and convert easily to a word-processing document with the adaptor.

13. Personalized Notebooks and Pens/Pencils—Again, you can’t go wrong with personalized gifts for a writer.

14. A Diary (with LOCK!)This is the place where all the ideas are born. (Ask Jack Gantos!) It’s from the little notes that an author builds those big stories. Give your kiddos a private place to start writing.

 

What a Writer Needs (New-School/Low-Tech)

Doodle boardRocket reusable notebookScuba Notes

15. Doodle Boards – The perfect spot for the young writer or illustrator that needs to write on everything! There’s no ink, so no mess!

16. Rocket Reusable NotebooksA “new” tech way of writing. These reusable notebooks, combined with a free app, create a digital space for all your notes and writing.

17. Scuba Notes (Glow in the Dark) For the writer who needs to write in the bathtub… and at night.

 

Story Starters and Inspiration

Clear jarBook Cover for "The Word Collector" by Peter ReynoldsRory Story Cubes

18. Word Collection Jars. Peter Reynold’s book, The Word Collector, embodies everything a writer loves. Why not give your young author a jar to collect those words in? Just add the words on little slips of paper and let the writing begin!

19. Rory’s Story Cubes—My students and I love these! The cubes can be used on your own, or as a game. Either way, the sets and creating stories with them can be addictive.

20. Story Starter Books and Blank Books—Everyone loves a good story starter. These are a few great ideas to get your writer started!

Book Cover: 642 Things to Write About: Young Writer Edition Book cover: Blank Comic Book for kids Book cover: And Then: Story Starters: 20 Imaginative Beginnings

 

20+ gifts for young writers