In this horse adventure perfect for fans of Black Beauty, Princess, a Connemara pony, lives a charmed life of brown sugar cubes, crunchy apples, sweet grass, and adoration. But it is a lonely life; her elderly owner keeps Princess separate from other ponies so his show ring champion will remain pristine. When Princess's owner has a stroke, she is thrust into the care of the unscrupulous trainer and his wife, who steal from the farm and leave. Abandoned to starve with the older, tougher ponies, Princess is bereft of all hope. Meanwhile a girl named Rae wants a pony more than anything and is striving to make her unrealistic dream a reality. Rae and Princess need each other, though neither realizes it when they eventually meet. Rae must learn to see beyond Princess's scars, and Princess must learn to trust again in order for them both to find their own hidden strengths and a home in each other.
Princess is a Connemara pony born into a world of blue ribbons and brown sugar, and being cossetted and overprotected by Roland, her elderly owner. Rae, a girl with a spine of steel, lives in another world, where there's enough money to get by, but not enough for her dream of a pony. When Princess loses Roland, there's no-one to protect her. But eventually she and Rae find each other. Can Princess become a backyard pony? Can Rae reach an old man's stubborn heart?
A middle-grade novel, 190 pages. Boyds Mills & Kane
An Interview with the Author
THE HUNGRY PLACE is told in part from a pony's point of view. How do you know what it's like to be a pony?
I own two horses and ride them daily. My life depends on being able to guess what's going on inside them. They are bigger, faster, and stronger than I am, and can see, hear, and smell things I can't. If something scares them, they stop paying attention to me, and I can get into trouble.
I read what they're feeling by their body language. Where are the ears pointing? Is the neck high and tight, or low and relaxed? The sound of a snort, the sound of the breath, can tell me if my horse is feeling playful, or truly scared, or even angry. When I write, I bring that understanding to my equine characters, and try to tell the story using the same physical language that they use to speak to me.
At the same time I always remember that horses and ponies aren't human. They have their own needs and priorities. For instance, the field ponies in THE HUNGRY PLACE chase and bite Princess. Are they mean? Not really. Equines in groups always try to figure out who's the boss. That matters a lot to them and they test it every day. Princess didn't get to grow up with other ponies, so it's scary and confusing for her, but with moments of peace, too, as they stand together and scratch each other.
Who are your favorite characters in the book?
Princess. She's born knowing everything she needs to stand on her own four feet and be an independent little creature. But right away humans step in, with the best intentions, and start shaping her and limiting her freedom. She's imprisoned by kindness, helpless—but she can tell the difference between Roland's love and the trainer's uncaring competence, and she feels the threat from Darlene. She keeps that insight as she gets older, and despite hard times and loneliness she keeps a fresh heart. She's loyal to Roland, and ready for Rae's love as well.
Rae. There was always a girl in this story, but only when I learned her true name did she come alive for me. I love how Rae is scrappy but not completely sure of herself. Gammer tells her she has 'a spine of steel.' Rae wonders if that's true. Her longing for a pony is deep and absolute, though, and with Gammer's support she keeps working toward that goal. An intense kid, the way horse-lovers often are.
Gammer. I love how she supports Rae at every turn, while also being realistic. She does make some mistakes. Early on she tells Rae to always ask for what she needs. Rae internalizes that in the opposite way, deciding not to ask because not being able to say yes would be distressing for Dad. This is something she needs to overcome at the end of the book. But Gammer believes in Rae and helps her believe in herself, gets her started in business and even teaches her how to tithe. Everyone should have a Gammer in their lives—and eventually, maybe we can learn to be Gammers for someone else.
Roland, Princess's first owner, is rich. Rae can't afford a pony, or even regular riding lessons. Gammer lives in a camper so she can spend winters in the south, and the rest of the year with her family. And the bad guys are very greedy. Why is money so important in this book?
It's a big force in our lives. We all need to figure out our attitude about it early on. Getting rich can't be the most important thing in the world, or we'll turn into Darlene. Being rich can isolate us, as it does Roland, and make us easy prey. Not having money can keep us achieving from our deepest, truest dreams. So it's pretty confusing, for everybody, in real life as well as stories. Luckily there are ways through this tricky maze and Gammer shines a light on them for Rae.
I think about money a lot because of life choices I made as a young person. My husband and I live in a tiny cabin in the woods. It didn't cost much to build, we make our own electricity, cut our own wood, and grow some of our own food, and that gives me the freedom to live the life I want, reading, riding horses, and writing. I've seen other people make big mistakes with money and be warped by the need for it; that applies to our whole country, actually. If we paid more attention to love, beauty, and caring for each other, we'd all be happier, and quite rich, actually.
Princess is a Connemara Pony. Why did you choose that breed?
First let me say, pony-sized equines are great! I own a 14-hand Morgan mare named Robin who is every bit as much fun to ride as a big horse.
The word 'pony' was in the original title of this book, so Princess had to be a pony, and she had to be large enough that Rae would never outgrow her. Those two need to be together forever. Connemaras are one of the biggest pony breeds. They're tough, beautiful, and phenomenal jumpers. Eventually the word 'pony' disappeared from the title, but by then I was committed.
Where did you get the idea for The Hungry Place?
My retired editor, Susan Hirschman, gave me the original title, "Princess Pony," which came with no story attached. Then I met Babe, a sweet horse in training with my friend Cheryl Rivers. Babe had a look in her eyes that I couldn't forget, and a backstory of neglect. (Don't worry: she found a wonderful new owner and is living happily ever after.)
Inspired by Babe, and by A Little Princess and Black Beauty, books I loved to cry over as a child, I wrote a story about a beautiful pony, Princess, who falls on hard times, and then meets her soul mate, Rae. It was a novel for younger readers, like my Jigsaw Pony, and it epically failed to sell. Finally I sent it to Rebecca M. Davis, my editor at Boyds Mills Press, who pointed out that it was only half there. Rae needed to tell her story too, and now she does.
How long did it take you to write The Hungry Place?
The first computer file I have for it dates from 2008, twelve years before it was published. Most readers for this middle-grade novel weren't even born yet! It's the first book I've ever persisted with for so long. What kept me going were the enthusiastic comments of editors who rejected it. Many wept at their desks over it. One asked me to turn it into a middle-grade novel—and rejected it again, still tearfully. One kept it for over a year, always hoping to publish. So I knew the story had something important. It made editors cry, but I didn't know what would make them buy. (One wonderful rejection, from Candlewick Press, did come with a request to write an easy reader horse story, which turned into the four-book Bramble and Maggie series.)
Twelve years is a long time. Two presidents. Two global recessions. A pandemic. Publishing houses were born, merged, and folded. I published eleven other books. But Princess's story still tugged at me. Rebecca had never seen it, and turned out to be its perfect editor, the one who could tell me what it needed and guide me through the revisions.
What do you want readers to take away from The Hungry Place?
I hope it makes readers feel brave, determined, and hopeful. There are hard times in this book, just as there are hard times in all our lives. But every day people—and ponies—keep going, realize their dreams, and find the love they've always been looking for. I also want the book to be a refuge, as books have been for me over the years. I have books that I read over and over again, because I want to be in that world. I hope this could be one of those books.
"Joni . . . loves the quiet and calm of her family's sheep farm; she loves riding her pony, Archie, after school. But her best school friends don't live nearby, so when a new girl, Chess . . . moves (in) . . . she's intrigued by the possibility of a new friend. Chess loves Joni's horse, kittens, and sheep, but she asks uncomfortable questions: don't the sheep mind being shorn? Milked? Eaten? Joni doesn't know how to answer, but she does challenge Chess's interpretation of her neighbor's treatment of her miniature horses--Chess is certain their muzzles, which restrict them from overgrazing, are cruel, while Joni knows they keep the animals safe on lush pasture. When Chess steals the minis and sets them free to eat, the near disaster challenges their budding friendship . . . Joni's first-person voice is fresh and true. As always, Haas knows her horses, and she explores the issue of animal rights with sensitivity to both sides. A satisfying read."
Kirkus, Feb. 1, 2018
"I just loved this book! I'm not a horse person usually, but the ethical dilemma of animal rights versus the reality of farming life is so perfectly portrayed here. Readers will be fascinated by the implications of Chess's ignorance and the danger of misinformation. Both girls grow and change by the end of the book, and the conflict resolves in a very realistic way. This is a must-buy for all elementary and middle-school libraries; so many kids will find this interesting and engaging."
Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth Ma, for Youth Services Book Reviews
"I could see this book being used as a great classroom or book club discussion book. It is thought-provoking; young and old could garnet great debate and stimulating discussion from group reading. Overall a great read for those needing a little bit of a mental workout once the pages have been turned."
Compass Book Ratings
History for children and adults, including Fire!, and the Westminster town histories
In poems of all kinds, from very light to very serious, HOOFPRINTS explores the story of horses, from their beginnings as small spotted forest creatures, through the harsh Ice Age, the first encounters with early man, the first riders, the great invasions from central Asia, and the cultures that have grown up around this most romantic and practical of animals.
a VOYA Poetry Pick
Beware has been a first chapter book for many readers. I'm delighted to bring it back, with a great cover and illustrations by my sister, Martha Haas.
A boy, an elderly logger, and a draft horse named Nip find ways around their problems in rural Vermont. A Texas Bluebonnet Award nominee.
Joni, growing up on her father's sheep farm, meets Chess, a vegan animal-rights activist. Chess doesn't believe in keeping 'captive animals,' not even Joni's horse, and the adorable barn kittens. An uneasy friendship explodes when Chess 'rescues' two miniature horses, endangering their lives. Joni has to act before it's too late.
Joni and Chess argue through issues of animal rights and farming, challenging and changing each other's points of view. A good mother-daughter book club book.
A Junior Library Guild selection
(easy chapter book)
Jigsaw is an old pony who's trained many girls. But his latest has moved away and Jig is neglected, until he's noticed by a kind mail man with twin daughters. Is he a black pony with white spots? A white pony with black spots? And why won't he do everything Fran and Kiera ask? This chapter book for second grade readers was a Gryphon Award Honor Book, a prize given for books for readers transitioning into reading on their own. Third in the series that begins with RUNAWAY RADISH.
Kirkus Editor's Choice "...one of the masters at the top of her game."
New York Public Library 100 Books to Read and Share
Gryphon Award Honor Book
Parents' Choice Recommended
Beverley Cleary Award Nominee
(easy chapter book)
Grandma Aggie always meant Popcorn to be Jane's pony, but Jane lives far away and Popcorn is a handful. So Grandma Aggie sells him--and then Jane comes to live nearby. When Grandma Aggie gets him back--just in time for Jane's birthday--he's still a handful. It some lessons from Tish and Radish (RUNAWAY RADISH) to teach Jane and Popcorn how to make each other happy.
A Junior Library Guild Selection
Beverley Cleary Award nominee
Maryland Blue Crab Award Honor Book (Transitional Fiction)
South Dakota Prairie Bud Award nominee
SCAMPER AND THE HORSE SHOW
Molly and Anna have the perfect costume for the July 4th horse show costume class--but it depends on Scamper staying sparkling white, and both Scamper and nature are conspiring against them. When the skies open up on their patriotic crepe-paper costume, Molly and Anna learn to keep their chins up, and reap a big reward. "You smile at the good things, and you smile at the bad," Mom says, and readers will smile too. Back matter tells more about horse shows.
A Junior Library Guild Selection
A Maryland Blue Crab Award nominee
Orphaned Harriet must go live with her stern aunt Sarah on a hill-farm in Vermont. How is she going to get to school, when Aunt Sarah doesn't believe school is necessary for girls? Can she train the excitable colt that is her only legacy from her mother? A sad, but ultimately uplifting story.
"A beautifully written novel..." ALA Booklist
"A finely tempered, compelling novel...especially notable for its powerful articulation of moments of despair and, ultimately, transcendence." Cooperative Children's Book Center
"An emotionally rich and powerful tale of love, reconciliation, and healing." School Library Journal, starred review.
"Haas's exquisitely crafted prose is the driving force in this heartfelt story of family ties..." Publisher's Weekly, starred review.
"The powerful story of a resilient girl's moral awakening, UNBROKEN is set in 1910 in the Vermont towns and hill farms that Jessie Haas knows to her marrow, but it reverberates with universal meaning."
The New York Times Book Review
Parents' Choice Gold Award
Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies
Publisher's Weekly Best Book
School Library Journal Best Book
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Masterlist
A White Raven Selection
CCBC Choice 2000