The Girl, River Echo Red Robin
My Morgan horse Robin inspires all my horse stories lately. In the one I'm writing now, she just killed the villain. I don't think she needs to know that, though. Might get ideas!
Robin can be an alarming horse. I'm proud that I was able to train her.
Atherton, the Morgan horse I lost in 2009
My beautiful boy, River Echo Atherton
Irish Dexter cows on the home farm
ME, THE LONGER VERSION
I was born in Westminster, Vermont, and have lived there most of my life. I grew up on a small farm, with cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, a lot of cats and dogs, and a younger brother and sister. We got our first horse, Scamper, when I was six.
I was born loving horses. Dad read Walter Farley's LITTLE BLACK, A PONY, every night until we both knew it by heart. Later I read every single horse book in all the libraries we went to, and then re-read them, and re-read them. (Try something else! Mom said, so I read the dog books, and the westerns because they took place on horseback, and then I read the horse books again.)
In fifth grade a teacher had our class write poems about anything we wanted to--a big change in our old-fashioned school. I wrote horse poems, and found out that writing is just as much fun as reading. From then on both were my refuge. I read through math class and middle school, and wrote through high school for a wonderful teacher and friend, Linda Felch.
I went to Wellesley College. My friends spent junior year at co-ed colleges. I had a boyfriend already, so I took a semester off, worked in a motel laundry, and wrote a story which became my first book, KEEPING BARNEY. It was, what else, a horse story, and I got The Call from the legendary Susan Hirschman of Greenwillow Books, at the front desk of my Wellesley dorm.
After college I married the boyfriend, Michael J. Daley, someone I'd known since high school. Soon after we built a tiny house in the woods, without benefit of any building experience. It was one-room, 12 feet by 16, the size of Thoreau's cabin at Walden Pond. 32 years later that house is still standing and sheltering us--a little expanded, but not much. It's powered by solar panels and still has outdoor plumbing (you can get used to almost anything, including an outhouse at twenty below, and it's amazing how much self-control it teaches!)
I had a lot to learn about writing, and following a quick couple of books I wrote many unpublishable manuscripts. It wasn't until I joined an SCBWI critique group around 1990, and at the same time lost my 20-hour-a week job, that I began publishing regularly. Around then I learned to write picture books, and the younger novels that have become one of my own special forms; the BEWARE books, and later the pony books that began with RUNAWAY RADISH. I also wrote a book of nonfiction, SAFE HORSE, SAFE RIDER, about how to handle and keep horses so you don't hurt them and they don't hurt you. The young novels have ushered many children into the world of reading; SAFE HORSE has possibly saved a number of lives; and I consider those comparable accomplishments.
I love to work in many different forms. HOOFPRINTS; HORSE POEMS, is a history of the world in poetry. I started to write a straight, nonfiction history of horses, and got bored filling in the tedious millenia. I wanted to react, I discovered, jump around--and I did, and it was more fun than anything else I've ever done.
I've written several historical novels, including UNBROKEN and CHASE. I've written a horse alphabet, and a picture book about our white horse, Scamper, and I've written a series of picture books about farming, the Gramp and Nora books. Most recently I published REVOLUTIONARY WESTMINSTER, and am just finishing TOWNSHIP NUMBER ONE; THE HISTORY OF WESTMINSTER, VT. with The History Press. A new early reader series, the Bramble and Maggie books, with Candlewick, has continued the work of helping beginners mount that tall horse call reading. I've had a horse character made into a Breyer horse model (Chico, of Chico's Challenge).
And the biggest gig of my life: I was asked to write the books for 2013's American Girl of the Year. Saige took me all over the country, and I got to meet tons of fans, and wonderful staff at American Girl stores. I really respect American Girl's commitment to books, reading, and the character of girls. Saige was made into a movie, also a first for me.
A new big gig, due out in 2017, was revising, updating, and editing The Horselover's Encyclopedia for Storey Publishing. The people at Storey are so much fun to work with, and our new book is going to be just gorgeous. I learned a great deal about horses in writing it, and can't wait to have it on my shelf and in stores.
Currently I'm training a retired broodmare to be a husband horse, enjoying a mostly-trained Robin, celebrating having gotten a crop of hay into the barn, and keeping my eyes open for what's next. One thing I realize every July, listening to the thrushes singing, and gazing at my daylilies, bee-balm, and fox-gloves--Vermont is the most beautiful place in the world, and I am extremely lucky to be a Vermont author.
I love the act of writing, I've learned to love rewriting, and I adore getting that first copy of a new book in the mail. But what I love best is knowing that out there in the world, kids are finding my books and curling up in private with them, having their own experience of them, and making of it whatever they will. The evidence of that is when I go to a library and see a beat-up, much-read copy of one of my books. I'll probably never meet the kids who read it, but I know it changed them somehow, as the books I've read changed me. That's why I do my best, every single time--because books matter.
MEET ME THROUGH MY THE WORK
I've written horse books for all ages; historical novels; contemporary novels; nonfiction; poetry; and history and a horse encyclopedia for adults. I was first published in 1982. If you grew up reading KEEPING BARNEY.and you're starting to raise or teach another generation of horse lovers, I'd love to hear from you. And if you want to revisit those books, they are now available as ebooks.
If you're teaching beginning readers, I hope you'll look at the pony series--RUNAWAY RADISH, BIRTHDAY PONY, JIGSAW PONY--and my new book, BRAMBLE AND MAGGIE, HORSE MEETS GIRL. I often hear that "This was the first chapter book my child read from start to finish."
A librarian told me about a fourth-grade boy who came to her one day, hugging RADISH. "I never thought I could learn to love to read," he said, "and then I found my Radish." We both had tears in our eyes, in the middle of the grocery store.
If you want to quiet a room full of kids, read aloud the first chapter of FIRE! or CHASE, and hear them start to hold their breath (the ultimate thrill for an author). If you don't want to cry in public, DON'T read the second chapter of UNBROKEN. If you want a canter through the byways of history, read HOOFPRINTS. If you want to crochet your horse a saddle blanket, or learn how to take pictures of him, read HORSE CRAZY!
And you knew, didn't you, that the first blood of the American Revolution was shed at Westminster, Vermont? If not, read REVOLUTIONARY WESTMINSTER.