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Berlie Doherty’s Snowy was the start of my campaign to persuade my children to love The Horse. We lived in London when the children were small, and there were not many horses about in Charlton, SE7. There were a few in the local park, used by Riding for the Disabled, and we went on many trips to see them. I was keen to do more than just look at the horse. In the early 1990s, there seemed to be very little about in the way of horsy literature for the very young, and when Snowy appeared in the children’s book catalogue at nursery I leaped on it with joy. The story of a girl who has to bring a pet to school, and brings the horse that pulls the barge on which she lives, I loved it. The children did too, but I realised I’d overdone it a bit when my eldest, usually ready to read any title over and over again, asked rather anxiously one evening if maybe we could read something different this time?
I have to say my campaign to horsify my children was a miserable failure, but that is my fault and not Berlie Doherty’s.
Berlie Doherty is better known for her other children’s books: her horse-related output is relatively small in relation to the over forty children’s books she has now written. Two have won the Carnegie Medal: Granny was a Buffer Girl in 1986, and Dear Nobody in 1991. Willa and Old Miss Annie, which has some horse content, was a runner-up in 1994. It’s fairer to say her horsy books are those in which horses are, rather than those which are centered on the horse. Like everything else the author has written, they are well worth getting hold of.
Berlie Doherty was born in Liverpool in 1943, and was educated at the University of Durham, where she read English. She taught, and worked as a social worker, and wrote and produced Schools programmes for Radio Sheffield. She inherited a love of daydreaming from her mother; and from her father a love of stories. As a child, she had stories and poems published on the Children’s Page of the Liverpool Echo, and was aghast to receive a letter from the editor, once she was fourteen, telling her she was too old now to contribute. And so she retired, temporarily, from writing, starting again once she decided to start a PGCE at the University of Sheffield, and took a creative writing course as part of it. Her tutor loved her short story, Requiem, based on her convent school days, and recommended she tried to get it published. She did. Of the process of writing, she said:
'When I talk to children and explain the process of writing I describe it as "I remember and let’s pretend." "I remember" is where you start, it’s what gives the story vitality and truth. "Let’s pretend" is what the imagination does with it, the lies that a story-teller is allowed to tell.'
Finding the books
Coconut is no longer in print, but is very easy to find. Spellhorn, Willa, Snowy, Nightmare and Old Miss Annie are still in print.
Bibliography: pony books only
Spellhorn, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1989, 190 pp.
Harper Collins, London, 1999
Collins Modern Classics, London, 2002, pb.
Harper Collins, 2010 (Essential Modern Classics)
Snowy, Harper Collins, London, 1992, 29 pp. Illus Keith Bowen
Picture Lions, Collins, London, 2003, 32 pp.
Dial, New York, 1993
Willa and Old Miss Annie, Walker Children’s Books, London, 1994, pb, illus Kim Lewis, 93 pp.
Walker Books, London, 2003
Catnip, London, 2003
Coconut Comes to School, Collins, London, 2003, 32 pp, illus Ivan Bates
Nightmare: Two Ghostly Tales. Nightmare was first published in Beware, Beware, Hamish Hamilton, 1997, and again in Running on Ice, Mammoth, 1997
Nightmare: Two Ghostly Tales
Collins, London, 2009, illus Martin Ursell