Book Review: The (Cybils) Year of the Horse

Confession: I was not – and am not – a horse girl.

I didn’t grow up around horses. I read Justin Morgan Had a Horse and tried to read Black Beauty but frankly, I was bored. Heresy. I know.

My daughter LOVES horses. She rides, and much to my chagrin, she jumps. She keeps trying to get me to like horse riding.

We do share one thing in common when it comes to horses, though: she doesn’t like reading stories about girls and their horses … especially girls who really want horses and whose parents say “no.”

There is a big part of me that hopes she sticks to her guns and doesn’t want to read horse stories … because if she reads Cybils nominees Libby of High Hopes by Elise Primavera or Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl by Jessie Haas we’re in trouble.

These two early chapter books have changed my mind on horse riding and horse stories and we can’t afford to have them change hers! [Luckily she doesn’t read my blog, so she won’t see my book review!]

Book Review: Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl

When I started reading Bramble and Maggie, I was really hopeful. Bramble thought like I do: riding around and around and around in a ring is boring. As Mrs. Blenkinsop the trainer explains …

You are bored, Bramble … but riding lessons are supposed to be boring for horses. Try to put up with it.

I instantly felt sorry for Bramble. Me. Feeling sorry for a horse. Who knew? So I kept reading. Obviously I knew that Bramble would come to live with Maggie, but I had to keep reading because I wanted to know all the details. How does a horse who doesn’t like horse riding lessons find a good home?

Book Review: Libby of High Hopes

When I met Libby Thump and learned I have a lot more to worry about than a bored horse. You see, Libby loves all things horses … she draws them every chance she gets, even when she’s supposed to be paying attention in class. She also hates the swim team and has decided she’s not very good. That would spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E in our house … as Catherine is a year round swimmer.

When Libby stumbles onto High Hopes Farm with her dog Margaret, things start going downhill. For me and Libby. Libby sees her dream finally coming true. She asks her parents about taking horse riding lessons … but they give the money to her older sister Laurel (whom her parents are trying to get OFF the phone). Then Libby asks to work at High Hopes Farm to raise money for lessons … and Laurel gets a job so she can buy boots and go to shows.

These are not the ideas an almost-11-horse-crazed-daughter needs to have in her mind. 

The other theme in the story is Libby’s relationship with Brittany, whom Libby describes right up front as her “ex-best friend.” At her mom’s request Libby’s rejoins the swim team to provide moral support to Brittany, who “is not herslef.” Libby quickly realizes that Brittany is very MUCH herself; after Brittany purposefully embarrasses her, Libby quits the team. Again. She jumps back into horses, hoping that being at High Hopes Farm will keep her away from Brittany. Wrong, now Brittany is taking horse riding lessons.

So of course I had to keep reading to find out what happened! Every. Last. Page. No, I am not going to tell you how it ends. Only that it is very satisfying for this Mom!

Together, these books are wonderful complements to each other. Maggie is about the same age as Libby, but the story is for readers who need more text but aren’t ready to give up colorful illustrations yet. The plot is simpler and predictable.

When those horse lovers are ready, Libby Thump will be waiting. The chapters are shorter: 4 to 7 pages, with pen-and-ink sketches every couple of pages.

Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl
by Jessie Haas; illustrated by Alison Friend
Candlewick Press, 2012

Each of the four stories is about 15 pages, all fully – and adorably – illustrated. There is plenty of repetition for new readers to build confidence.

Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl is a great early chapter book. Readers who enjoy Dori Chaconas’ Cork and Fuzz books or the Aggie and Ben series by Lori Ries will definitely enjoy this style of writing.

Libby of High Hopes
written and illustrated by Elise Primavera
Simon & Schuster / Paula Wiseman Books, 2012

This is a very sweet what-I-did-on-summer-vacation story and Libby is an “every girl” that many pre-teens (even those not horse crazy) can relate to. She represents the person they want to be and at the same time is just like them. High Hopes Farm is central to the story on several levels, and Libby has the depth to make all of them work well together.

All kidding aside, Libby of High Hopes is a book that is meant to be shared. It would make a great choice for a  mother-daughter book club, too. Readers who liked Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han or Dodger and Me by Jordan Sonnenblick will like the style of this book, too.

Two important notes. First, Libby of High Hopes and Bramble and Maggie: Horse Meets Girl have been nominated in the Early Chapter Book category for the 2012 Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Awards. The book review and opinions here are my own and don’t reflect that of the panels.

Second, cover images and book titles link to We have an affiliate relationship with Amazon and can earn income with purchases made through those links. They’re for your convenience to get more details and should not be considered obligatory.