blog hop · book review · marguerite henry

Readalong Blog Hop & Book Review: King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry

Welcome to the Marguerite Henry Readalong Blog Hop! Here’s my review of King of the Wind, and you’ll find the blog hop code at the bottom of the post. I’m excited to read everyone else’s thoughts. 🙂

King of the Wind
by Marguerite Henry

I’m glad this was the book we voted on for this blog hop, because in some objective ways it’s the best of Henry’s work. It has everything that’s typical of her books – boy + horse, hardship, loving homes after a lifetime of difficulty, a truly special horse, Wesley Dennis illustrations, and quirky animals – and add to that some really compelling history.

If you haven’t read it, here’s the gist: a slave boy named Agba raises an orphaned colt, named Sham, in the stables of the sultan of Morocco. That colt grows to a stallion who is sent to France, and then to England, encountering hardships along the way. Agba stays with Sham throughout his life and eventually sees him become the pride of the Earl of Godolphin’s stables, passing on his speed to his offspring and becoming a founding sire of the Thoroughbred breed.

I do love this book. Reading it is an intensely nostalgic experience, and I can almost remember all the many places I read and re-read it as a child when I am in the midst of my favorite scenes. It’s an intensely sensory book: I’ll never forget the breaking of the fast of Ramadan in the opening scene.

There are some really fantastic things about this book, and one thing I noticed on this re-read was how well Henry portrays a Muslim culture. It’s dated, yes, and has a bit too much “mystery of the East” going on (see also, Orientalism, but honestly it was written in 1949 so for its time it’s pretty grat), but it’s a sensitive, forthright portrayal of a hero who is a) a person of color and b) a devout Muslim. The world needs more of that!

The cast of secondary characters are also really wonderful, and support the main narrative in note-perfect ways, from the French court to the streets of London. One character that stood out in particular was Jethro Coke, the Quaker who rescues Sham and Agba from Paris, but who caves to his daughter’s demands and gets rid of Sham after his son-in-law turns out to be a foppish, useless idiot who can’t ride. That’s so human – so often in stories like this people are wholly good or wholly bad, and the people in this book are often mixed up and acting in unexpectedly disappointing ways.

That said, there are a few things I really don’t like about this book. First and foremost, it plays way too much into the “specialest horse of all” trope. If I were presented with a horse who behaved as Sham does throughout this book, I would not think he was a magical horse. I would think he was an utter shit who needed to lose his testicles pronto. (Seriously, though, how did he make it to the end of the book ungelded? HOW?) He only answers to Agba. He routinely misbehaves. To be fair – no one actually takes the time to train him (including Agba…) so it is not entirely his fault but the book would also have us believe that he behaves when he wants to, and he doesn’t when he doesn’t, and that’s part of his charm, amirite? (NO.)

There’s also some of the usual stretching of equine physiology: are you telling me that someone thought it would be a good idea to have horses fast for Ramadan? No one colicked? In the desert? (I wonder how historically accurate that is?) All the crazy things that Sham has to do and put up with. The fact that a series of experienced horsemen look at Sham and think he’s not a quality horse, when any half-decent horseperson can look even at a starved horse and get an idea for its quality. Yes, it’s harder; no, it’s not impossible.

All in all, though, this is a wonderful book. I read it in one big gulp, and have easily read it two dozen times over the years. It’s nearly a perfect horse story, and it certainly hits all its emotional moments squarely on the head. Henry knows her horses, and the horse behavior is – naughtiness notwithstanding – compellingly described. Anyone could sympathize with Agba’s plight and his devotion to his horse. I love it. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a good horse book to read, and especially to kids who are ready to get sucked into the horse world.


blog hop · book review · marguerite henry

Marguerite Henry Readalong Blog Hop: Poll Results!

The results are in!

We’ll read King of the Wind, Henry’s Newberry Award-winning story about the origins of the Godolphin Arabian, one of the founding stallions of the Thoroughbred breed.
You can buy it new here on Amazon, used here on, or check it out from your local library.
Start reading! I’ll post here on Friday, November 7 with my review, and the blog hop link code. 
blog hop · book review · marguerite henry

Poll: Which Marguerite Henry Book Should We Read First?

I got enough positive responses to my poll about a Marguerite Henry readalong that I’m going to go ahead and do it. So, here’s a poll about which book we should read! Again, the idea is that everyone reads the book and publishes their review as part of the blog hop, on or around the same date. We’ll do this a few times for different books if it works out.

Here’s my proposed timeline:

October 22: Poll closes
October 23: Announcement of winner, start reading!
November 7: Blog hop post here with my review

blog hop · book review · marguerite henry

Blog Hop Idea: Marguerite Henry Readalong

I was happy to see how many people liked my review of Black Gold, and had fond memories of reading Marguerite Henry books. I’ve been looking over my collection of horse books for the last few days, thinking how many other great books she wrote.

I thought it might be fun to host a blog hop readalong of Marguerite Henry books. She wrote, apparently, 16 of them, which actually seems like a small number now that I see it in print!

I have one question – well two questions.

First, would anyone actually participate?

Second, should I do it so that you pick whatever Marguerite Henry book you want and then say 2 weeks later post a review?

Or should we all vote on a particular book to read, and do that 3 or 4 times?

So, a poll. Comment and let me know if you’d be interested in doing these, and vote in the poll to tell me how you think we should run it.

book review · horse racing · marguerite henry

Book Review: Black Gold by Marguerite Henry

Black Gold
by Marguerite Henry

Otherwise known as, god damn you anyway, I wasn’t doing anything with that heart, you go ahead and shatter it into a million pieces.

So for various reasons that I will talk about in a little while, I found myself at the town library seeking out Marguerite Henry books. I had zero intention of re-reading Black Gold, but there it was on the shelf, in the big hardcover edition, with Wesley Dennis illustrations. I couldn’t not. (There oughta be a law about publishing Marguerite Henry books without Wesley Dennis illustrations: I’m looking at you, current crappy paperback editions.)

Black Gold is one of Henry’s YA re-tellings of a true historical story, which actually sums up most of her canon, now that I think about it. It has the requisite boy who falls in love with the young horse, clever personalities, quirky details, and really wonderful writing. The real Black Gold was maybe not so mythical or personable, but in many essentials, the story is the same.

In summary: Black Gold is the son of the sprint mare U-See-It, owned by Al and Rosa Hoots and trained by Hanley Webb. U-See-It was banned from the track after Hoots refused to give her up in a claiming race, and so the decision was made to breed her to Black Toney.

Black Gold proved to be an excellent racer himself, and won the 1924 Kentucky Derby, among other stakes races. He was groomed and ridden by J.D. Mooney, who went on to be a celebrated jockey on other horses. Black Gold was retired for soundness issues, but proved to be a dud in the breeder’s shed, so he went back to the track at age six. He broke down in a race in New Orleans: “on three legs and a heart, he finished the race.”

Of all the things I had forgotten about Marguerite Henry – and it’s been quite a while since I re-read her books – her writing was what surprised me the most on this re-read. It’s not an easy story; while there is charm and sweetness in the early pages, the last third of the book is a heartwrenching story as Jaydee (Henry tells the story primarily through the lens of a young J.D. Mooney) recognizes Black Gold’s soundness issues and has to make the painfully adult decision of stepping away from the horse. Hanley Webb is determined to race him and Jaydee can only watch as the horse is basically run into the ground.

In many ways, the final chapters of this book are incredibly adult for the audience. Hanley Webb’s very real weaknesses and foibles take center stage and Black Gold’s story becomes, clearly, a canvas for human frailty. His is not the story of the superhorse who retired to pasture, but rather the hard campaigner who tried and tried until he finally couldn’t. In a softer story, Jaydee would have gotten through to Webb, and Black Gold would not have run that final race. Henry certainly pulls her punches in other historical stories (Justin Morgan Had a Horse stands out in particular) but not this one. The horse dies as a direct result of obviously poor decisions by people who should’ve been looking out for him.

As I said: not an easy read. But a really, really beautiful one. For example, here’s Jaydee thinking about going back for Black Gold at the end of the book:

His eyes were set far off. He was thinking that all he’d be able to do for Black Gold would not be enough. He could sit bird-light on the little horse’s neck. he could cluck to him with heart and soul. He could threaten him with the whip. But two things he knew – it would not be enough and it would not be fair.

In short: recommended, but have tissues handy.