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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.


Sources and links

The British Library
The British Council

Berlie Doherty’s website

Berlie Doherty

Bibliography - pony books only

Willa and Old Miss Annie

Walker Children’s Books, London, 1994, pb, illus Kim Lewis, 93 pp.
Walker Books, London, 2003

Catnip, London, 2003

When Willa first meets Miss Annie she’s afraid of her, but then she
discovers they both share a love of animals. This book contains three
linked stories: it starts off with one about a goat called Joshua; the
middle one is about a Shetland pony, and the third is about a fox cub.



Spellhorn

Hamish Hamilton, London, 1989, 190 pp.

Harper Collins, London, 1999

Collins Modern Classics, London, 2002, pb.

Harper Collins, 2010 (Essential Modern Classics)


Spellhorn originally saw the light of day as a play for Radio 4, A Dream of Unicorns. Laura is blind,
but there is nothing at all wrong with her other senses. When she joins the unicorn, they join a
magical world, where the unicorn Spellhorn and the Wild Ones see her as their leader and rely
on her to get them to the safety of the Bright Wilderness.

Coconut Comes to School

Collins, London, 2003, 32 pp, illus Ivan Bates


Coconut the donkey comes to school every day, but though the children love
her, the Head Master doesn’t. He comes up with a plan to make her go away,
but when trouble strikes, he might need Coconut more than he thinks.




Snowy

Harper Collins, London, 1992, 29 pp. Illus Keith Bowen
Picture Lions, Collins, London, 2003, 32 pp.
Dial, New York, 1993

Troika, 2014

Rachel and her family live on a barge, and it is pulled by their horse,
Snowy. Rachel wants to take the horse to school, and so that’s what
they do (eventually). The story was based on a real family and their
horse, on whose barge the author spent a week of mornings with
school children, writing about their experiences.


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


Nightmare is the story of Rab, a traveller boy, and a horse locked in ice.






Short Stories