Title: Year of the Black Pony
Author: Walt Morey
Major Themes: Pioneers, 1800s, Western Novels, Horses
Synopsis: Chris badly wants a beautiful black pony—but when his father suddenly dies, all dreams for the future seem to be only distant fantasies.
We first got Year of the Black Pony on audio, and my brothers listened to it at least ten times in succession. They loved it. There was a slight problem, though—the story came in one long track, and if anyone hit the wrong button on the CD player they had to fast forward through about two hours’ worth of track to get to their place! Despite that problem, the boys lived with Chris and his family—drinking in every word.
Recently, we were able to get a paper copy of the book as well, and even though I’ve heard bits and snatches of the recorded version, it was nice to be able to read the whole thing.
Chris loves Mr. Fletcher’s untamed black pony. But a household surviving on what little food they can grow on their land, with only enough grass and hay to feed the desperately needed stock, has nothing left over for a wild, untrainable horse.
Then his father is killed in an accident, and he and his mother struggle to keep the farm going without him. His mother soon realizes it will be impossible for them to do many things by themselves, so she arranges a marriage between herself and Mr. Chase. After working with Mr. Chase all summer, Chris grows to highly respect and like him. Ma, however, sees no more in her marriage to him than the only way to keep the family together and stay in the land they love.
Mr. Chase sees Chris’ deep desire for the horse, and decides a boy needs to have a few fulfilled dreams in his life. He buys the black pony as a present for Chris. Chris hopes that by breaking in the horse, his ma will see that Frank Chase is alright and they’ll become a happy family together.
Things don’t work out as planned, though—the gulf between him and Ma, and Frank and Ma—has grown even larger after buying the black pony. Is there any hope that they will ever be a family? Will the black pony always be wild? Will there ever be peace in the home?
Year of the Black Pony is a story of hope, mixed with sadness. It shows how hard life was for the early settlers out west, but also beautifully portrays the hope that even under hard circumstances, things can and will get better. While not a “Christian” story per se, it does have a strong flavor of faith in God throughout the book. I really enjoyed the ending, as well—it was quite sweet. Boys who love horses would especially enjoy this fast-paced story.
WARNING: There are several fist fights described in some detail, but it was fine for my five-year-old brother to hear.
Read Aloud—Ages 5 – 8, 8 – 12, 10 – 13, Family Read Alouds
Reading Independently—Ages 8 – 12, 10 – 12, 12 – 15