Joanna Cannan is a name that many people may not know now: when pony books are discussed
Jill will be brought up: depending on your age, The Saddle Club, and of course, the
Pullein-Thompsons. Joanna Cannan was not only the Pullein-Thompsons’ mother, but
arguably one of the first, and best pony story authors. Fidra Books are re-publishing
Joanna Cannan’s pony books, and so far We met Our Cousins and London Pride are in
Joanna Cannan’s Pony Books
Before Joanna Cannan wrote A Pony For Jean, pony books were generally a story told
from the pony’s point of view. There were earlier books which took off in a totally
different direction, like Hildebrand and Plum Duff and Prunella, which explored a
fantasy world of horses who could talk, and do quite a few other unexpected things
as well. Mary Oliver wrote of holidays with ponies, but Joanna Cannan’s stories
started with Jean and were written from her point of view. Jean coped with a country
world new to her, cousins who scorned her, and an almost uncanny ability to lose
things and generally get into a muddle.
Joanna Cannan was always interested in the contrast between town and country (and
was firmly on the side of the country). In A Pony For Jean, Jean’s family hit financial
difficulties and have to move from London to the countryside. We Met Our Cousins
looks at the clash between town and country: its heroes are town children, sent
to Scotland, where they slowly learn to unbend. In the sequel, London Pride, the
two Scottish cousins, Morag and Angus visit London and all four children treat London
much as they did the Scottish Highlands. The later They Bought Her a Pony features
an utterly urban child who finds the freedom of the countryside, and its attitudes,
alien. There is hope for Angela Peabody (to stop her newly rich mother throwing away
her horsy ornaments she buries them in a windowbox), but she expects money to solve
all her problems. The horse-mad family she meets, the Cochranes, have no money but
endless resourcefulness, in which I suspect they were like the Pullein-Thompsons.
Eventually Angela realises that she is going to need more than money to get what
I Wrote A Pony Book was published in 1950, and was Joanna Cannan’s answer to the
massive proliferation of pony books. Her heroine is away at school, where she cannot
ride; she is awkward and independent and does not fit in with the school ethos at
all. She doesn’t fit in particularly with the standard pony book plot either: there
is no loving description of her pony’s schooling. Indeed, unlike her daughters,
Joanna Cannan does not tend to concentrate on the schooling of pony and rider: Dinah,
in Gaze at the Moon, says “I will not describe how we schooled Air Frost because
it is all set out in books on how to school horses and really it was very simple.”
Gaze at the Moon¸ Joanna Cannan’s last children’s novel, is different. Probably
my favourite Joanna Cannan, Armada published this as a paperback in the 1960s and
my copy is still with me, though now in separate pieces. Dinah, the heroine, and
her family live in the country but have just been moved to a new council house in
a nearby town. Dinah’s stepmother and stepsister are distinctly urban in outlook:
Judy, the sister, wants to be a hairdresser, and none of the family understand Dinah’s
ambition to be an artist. Dinah loves her family despite their differences, and
quietly, but with utter determination, she goes her own way. Dinah’s stepmother
says: “Gaze at the moon and fall in the gutter.” Dinah’s reply is “I think you
should gaze at it - if you do fall in the gutter you can get up again and at least
you’ve gazed.” - an accurate summing up of Joanna Cannan’s attitude to life.
Finding the books: The paperback We Met Our Cousins and London Pride are still in
print. Hardbacks of both these titles tend to be expensive. All of the Jean titles
tend to be expensive, particularly with dustjackets. The Knight paperbacks are less
expensive, but still not usually cheap. They Bought Her A Pony is easy to find in
its compiilation printings. Gaze at the Moon is pricey, and even the paperback is
now becoming difficult to find. I Wrote a Pony Book is now becoming expensive in
any printing. Hamish is very easy to find as a Cavalier paperback: as a Puffin
it is usually reasonably priced, though can be hard to find in good condition.
A Pony for Jean John Lane, 1936, illus Anne Bullen Reprinted by Knight in pb in 1970,
illus Sandra Archibald. Text slightly altered. 1973 Knight reprint, different uncredited
cover Reprinted in hb by Brockhampton, 1970,
illus Sandra Archibald USA Edition: 1st 1937 Scribners, illus Anne Bullen
Probably identical to UK edn, except the
dj background, which is red rather than green
Jean and her family have just moved out to the country. The pony getting is actually
quite effortless and happens in the second chapter, when her cousins give her a pony
they call The Toastrack. She renames him Cavalier, and the rest of the book is about
Jean learning to ride Cavalier and even learning to jump.
Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Dawn Harrison and Lisa Catz for supplying many of the pictures in this section.
We Met Our Cousins Collins 1937, illustrated by Anne Bullen Reprinted in pb by Fidra
Tony and John live in London with their Aunt, Uncle and spoiled cousin, and although
they have some rebellious ways, really they are London children. When they go to
stay with their Highland cousins, they soon find a very different way of doing things,
which in the end they absorb thoroughly, so much so that in the end they find it odd
to wear shoes.
Another Pony For Jean Collins 1938, illustrated by Anne Bullen Reprinted in Knight
paperbacks, 1970s and also in hardback by Brockhampton
This is the book in which the Jean tries, and fails, to build a bantam house. Jean
has now been sent off to school with the rise in the family’s fortunes, and the action
takes place in various school holidays. Jean hunts Cavalier, and finds her first
aid practised on the dining room table comes in handy when one of Lord Highmoor’s
hunters hurts his leg badly. Jean gets a reward for her quick thinking...
London Pride Collins, London, 1939, 148 pp, illus Anne Bullen Reprinted in pb by Fidra,
Edinburgh, 2007, 137 pp. Illus Anne Bullen.
Morag and Angus, the Highland cousins, come to London to stay. It is as if a whirlwind has
hit the quiet London square. The four of them find and buy a badly treated pony, whom
they name London Pride, and keep in the Square gardens, until they manage to wangle
a countryside home for her.
More Ponies For Jean Collins, London, 1943, illus Anne Bullen Reprinted Knight paperbacks
1976 Brockhampton Press, Leicester, hb, 1976, jacket & frontis Richard Kennedy, 150
The more ponies of this title come about because Jean and her friend Judy start a
riding school when they leave school.
They Bought Her A Pony Collins, London, 1944, illus Rosemary Robertson
Reprinted 1971 in Three Great Pony Stories: Collins
Angela Peabody has everything she wants. Her parents buy her a pony when they move
to the country and she assumes she will instantly win everything in sight. Things
do not go according to plan, even when she meets the horsy, but poor, Cochranes.
Hamish, the Story of a Shetland Pony Puffin Picture Books 1944, illustrated by Anne
Bullen Reprinted by Cavalier in pb
Alison doesn’t much like school, and she is a disappointment to her parents (who
wanted a boy) as she is not sporty and cried the one time she was taken shooting.
The one thing she does like is riding, and she has a Western Isles pony called Marla.
Alison’s English teacher wants essays with her opinions, and not her pupils’, and
one day says to Alison “If you know so much, why don’t you write a book yourself,
Alison?” And so she does.
Gaze At The Moon Collins 1957, illustrated by Sheila Rose Reprinted 1961 in hardback
by Collins Reprinted in Armada paperbacks in 1965