Stormy, Misty’s Foal // by Marguerite Henry

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//published 1963//

The original Misty book was published in 1947, with its sequel, Sea Starfollowing 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.

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The real Misty and Stormy

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.

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Aerial footage of the Beebe farm just after the storm.

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.

Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague // by Marguerite Henry

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//published 1949//

A while back I reread one of my childhood classics, Misty of Chincoteague.  This story, about two children – Paul and Maureen – who raise a pony on an island off the Delmarva Peninsula is probably Henry’s best-known story.  Its rise in popularity led to it being made into a movie, and so Henry returned to Chincoteague and Pony Penning Day.  She says in her afterword,

I had no though of writing another Chincoteague story.  I really did not want to write another.  Misty, I thought, was complete in itself.  Let the boys and girls dream their own wonderful sequels.

And then all my resolves burst in  midair.  Early on the morning after Pony Penning, a lone colt with a crooked star on his forehead was found at Tom’s Cove … except for the sea mews and the striker birds, the colt was quite alone, one little wild thing, helpless against the wild sea.

And there, in that wild moment at Tom’s Cove, the story of Sea Star was born of itself.

Like the story of Misty, the title character of Sea Star doesn’t appear until better than halfway through the book.  The beginning of the story picks up a year or two after Misty ended.  Paul and Maureen love their pony, and she is like a member of the family.  And then, two men appear and offer to buy Misty.  They have read the book about Misty and want to make a movie.  And while they plan to shoot portions of the movie on Chincoteague – namely, the Pony Penning parts – they want to take Misty back to New York with them, not just for the recording of the movie, but –

Because … we’d want to keep her a while after the screen play is made.  We’d want to take her to schools and libraries where boys and girls could meet her.  We’d want to fix a stall for her in the theaters where her picture was showing so they could see the real Misty.  It might be a long time before she could come back … Sometimes when I hear the children in New York talk about Misty, it seems she no longer belongs to a boy and a girl on an island, but to boys and girls everywhere.

While Paul and Maureen initially give a resounding no to the offer, circumstances change when they realize that the money from selling Misty would be enough to send their uncle to college.  It’s a truly beautiful scene, as the children realize that there are things bigger than themselves.  Their uncle’s yearning to go forward with his education so he can become a minister and serve others, the way that Misty has become an important part of the lives of many children whom Paul and Maureen have never met, and through it all the lesson that one reaps what one sows: the knowledge that selfishness is only beneficial in the short run.

This book has a more serious tone than Misty.  Henry does a really wonderful job showing us the many ways that Paul and Maureen mature in just those few weeks (and isn’t that how life happens?  In leaps and bounds?).  She never portrays their decision as easy or flippant: what they are doing is a huge, serious sacrifice.  Any reward they may eventually receive from their choice is far in the future.

There are multiple life-lessons to be learned.  Throughout, Wesley Dennis’s amazing illustrations bring the story to life.  I may or may not have gotten teary-eyed when Paul and Maureen saw Misty off.

While Misty was a happy children’s story, I liked Sea Star better.  There is a bit more drama and depth, and everything pulls together to make a cohesive and engaging story.  While not perfect, it is a really wonderful sequel and definitely recommended.

#18 for #20BooksofSummer!!!

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Misty of Chincoteague // by Marguerite Henry

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//published 1947//

When I was a little girl, I was like every other child in the world – I wanted a horse.  (What is it about horses that gives them an almost universal appeal when we are young?)  I devoured every “horsey” book I could find, and a great many of them were written by Marguerite Henry.  She was a fairly prolific writer of children’s books throughout the 1940’s and 50’s, many of which were illustrated by Wesley Dennis, whose simple line drawings are absolute perfection.  She had a knack of writing about children and animals in a way that was quite relatable, and was unafraid to tackle some darker topics as well.  For instance, Brighty of Grand Canyon involves a murder, and Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West looks at the dreadful practice of rounding up wild horses by airplane and driving them to slaughter for dog food.  But throughout, her stories are still happy and enjoyable.  They are children’s books, so many of them (like Misty) are not necessarily long on plot, but are still delightful stories.

The setting for Misty is Chincoteague, a small island off the Delmarva coast.  Between Chincoteague and the ocean is yet another, larger, island – Assateague.  While Chincoteague is populated by humans, Assateague has been left to the wild things, including several herds of ponies whose origins are shrouded in mystery.

Paul and Maureen are the main characters of the book.  Around the ages of 10-12, they live with their grandparents on Chincoteague.  Most of the island’s inhabitants make their living from fishing, but Grandpa Beebe raises and sells ponies.  Every year the menfolk from Chincoteague cross the channel and round up as many ponies on Assateague as they can find.  They swim the ponies back across the channel and have a festival of sorts known as Pony Penning Day.  Many of the younger ponies are sold, while the older ones and some of the young ones are sent back across to Assateague until the next year.

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One of Wesley Dennis’s perfect illustrations.

This year, Paul and Maureen are determined to buy a pony of their own, one that won’t be sold like all of Grandpa Beebe’s eventually are.  But they don’t want just any pony – they want the Phantom, a young mare known for her wily abilities to escape the roundup.  The children work hard to earn money to pay for the Phantom. They know that she will be found this year, because Paul is old enough to ride on the roundup for the first time.  Paul does, in fact, find the Phantom – except she isn’t alone.  She has a little foal with her, and now Paul and Maureen are determined to own them both.

Henry weaves a simple but ultimately pleasing story.  Her descriptions of the island, the roundup, and the interactions of Paul and Maureen are done well.  Grandpa and Grandma Beebe are down-to-earth and practical – they guide the children but let them learn on their own.  The children work hard for their goals, and hard work is rewarded.  Ultimately, they learn lessons about themselves, ponies, and the importance of letting wild things be wild.

Even though Misty – Phantom’s foal – is the title character, she really isn’t the central part of the story.  Phantom and the children play a much bigger part in the tale.

Henry loved to write stories that were mostly real.  She says at the beginning of her book:

All the incidents in this story are real.  They did not happen in just the order they are recorded, but they all happened at one time or another on the little island of Chincoteague.

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The real Misty.

Her dedication is to a list of characters in her book who are all real people, including the Phantom, Misty, and the leader of the Phantom’s herd, Pied Piper, all of whom were real ponies as well.  In real life, Henry purchased Misty as a weanling and owned her for many years before Misty returned to Chincoteague.  Misty was at the heart of many fundraisers to encourage children to read, and to give money to preserve wildlife on Assateague.

In my personal real life, I finally got to visit both Chincoteague and Assateague back in 2010 – and it was still a genuine thrill, almost twenty years after reading the book for the first time!

All in all, this reread was not a disappointment.  While the story not the type that will get your blood pounding, it is still poignant and engaging, with perfect illustrations.

20booksfinalI own a huge pile of Henry’s books and am hoping to revisit them soon.  For now, the three sequels to Misty are in the queue, including Sea Star, which will be part of 20 Books of Summer.  Misty is #12 from that challenge:  I’m beginning to think that I may be successful!