The original Misty book was published in 1947, with its sequel, Sea Star, following in 1949. Henry said that she never intended to write even one sequel, much less two. But in 1962 a huge storm hit the Atlantic seaboard. Later known as the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, it is considered in the top ten worst storms of the twentieth century (in the US), wreaking millions of dollars of damage along the coast, killing several people and injuring more, wiping out homes, businesses, and livestock, as well as destroying and causing devastating damage to many towns.
The island of Chincoteague, along with its personal barrier island, Assateague, were among those hit by the storm. In 1963, Henry wrote another Chincoteague book. While much of the book is fiction, Misty really was brought into a house to be saved from the storm, and the damage Henry describes is completely accurate. She says that she wrote the book as a response to the hundreds of children who did their part to help restore Chincoteague and Assateague. Her dedication says:
Dedicated to the boys and girls everywhere whose pennies, dimes, and dollars helped restore the wild herds on Assateague Island, and who by their spontaneous outpouring of love gave courage to the stricken people of Chincoteague.
At the end of Sea Star, Misty had been sold to a movie producer so that she could travel to advertise the movie. When Stormy opens, a few years have passed, and Misty is back at home on the island with the Beebe family, ready to give birth to her first foal. The family is quite excited, of course, and the first couple of chapters reintroduce us to the warm, happy family, greatly aided by Wesley Dennis’s suburb illustrations.
But a storm is brewing. While the people of the island are no strangers to nor’easterns, this one coincides with one of the highest tides of the year, and soon water covers almost the entire island. The people of Chincoteague band together to rescue and protect one another, but soon they are forced to evacuate.
I’m not going to lie – I did actually shed a few tears over this book. Many of the ponies die, and just knowing that so much of this story was true made it hard to read. But Henry does a magnificent job capturing the hope and beauty that so often balances these tragedies – wherein strangers are willing to give what they can to help those who are in need.
Because so many of the wild ponies – who are rounded up every year during Pony Penning Day, with some of the young being sold to raise money for the fire department – were killed by the storm, donations poured in to help purchase back island ponies to reestablish the herds. Another twist, which Henry doesn’t mention in her book, was that, at the time, parts of Assateague had been sold into lots for development. After the storm, however, the development plan was abandoned, and now the entire island is a wildlife refuge.
In her afterword, Henry says:
Boys and girls all over the United States … deluged Chincoteague with a fresh tide – of letters! … and tucked inside were pennies, dimes, and dollars. The letters are stories in themselves:
“Here is a check for four dollars and four cents for the Misty Disaster Fund. It is an odd number because we earned it weeding dandelions and they grow odd. We hope the money will come in handy. Please excuse our poor writing. We are doing this in my tree house.”
“During our Story Hour we set out a jar marked ‘For Pony Pennies,’ and we marched around the library until 386 pennies were dropped in.”
“The radio said your ponies and chickens drowned. … Here is one dollar. I know it isn’t much, but that’s how much I can give.”
Henry adds that by June enough money had been received for the firemen to purchase back ponies, and Pony Penning Day was still held.
Something about this story really got to me. Just the idea that fifteen years earlier Henry happened to write a story that children loved, so when the storm hit, they gave back.
Henry doesn’t shy away from death in this book, and the scene where Grandma Beebe’s little chicks all drown legit made me cry. In some ways it was a hard book to read, but in a good way, and it is a story that is never too dark. It was also funny to read some of the “signs of the times” in things like the women and children not being allowed back on the island because of typhoid scare, when in this day and age, I’m sure just as many women would be on the island helping with the cleanup! (Although the part where Grandpa and Paul smuggle Grandma and Maureen back onto the island early is just fantastic!)
All in all, Stormy is an excellent addition to this little series, and a solid read. 4/5; recommended.
Also, here is a webpage with more details about the storm – and more pictures – if you are interested.