The pony books I read as an impressionable youth starred rich girls in a parallel universe of jodhpurs and gymkhanas. Jade’s Summer of Horses is still a fantasy, but a much more relatable one. (The exception to the problem of unrelatable pony stories is The Pony Problem, a classic I must have read ten times.)
Both the setting of Jade’s Summer of Horses – small-town New Zealand – and the characters – Jade’s single-parent dad, a very prickly aunt, and a pretty-much homeless neighbour – are different to what I remember in horse books. The plot’s a little different too: Jade has to sell her lovely old horse, Pip. Luckily, she finds the perfect buyer in her friend’s very prickly aunt, who happens to own a riding school, and would love to have Jade and her friend stay for a Summer of Horses. Jade makes friends with the aunt, the horses, and the next door neighbour who lives in a shipping crate and brings about the book’s – spoiler – happy ending.
There’s an awful lot about horses in this book. Jade goes riding around the paddock, in the sea, along the beach, and in the forest. It sounds rather exhausting, but she seems to enjoy it, as presumably, does our young reader. There’s instructions in the back of the book on How to Mount and Hold the Reins, which rather suggests that the audience isn’t the type of child who takes riding lessons, but the type of child who would very much like to.
It’s easy to dismiss horse books as nonsense written for girls, but Jade’s Summer of Horses takes care to introduce a variety of characters, in between loving descriptions of horse riding. Brown doesn’t speak down to the reader: there are lovely long words scattered about, and the more interesting characters are described perfectly matter-of-factly.
I especially enjoyed the loving descriptions of the food. In true Famous Five fashion, the characters eat regularly, and with great gusto. There’s pipis, fish pie, pancakes, toasted marshmellows, and “steaming hot, aromatic bread, on which the butter melted deliciously.” It’s great that the book is set locally – it’s always nice to see the place we live reflected, and especially as the beach is far more accessible than Platform 9 and 3/4s.
The only thing better than a good horse book is a series of good horse books. This is the 4th book in the Pony Tales series, all of which star Jade.
All in all, Jade’s Summer of Horses is a very solid pony book. Highly recommended for the pony-crazed young reader in your life.