A few years ago a friend and fellow collector, Fran, sent me a list of American pony books she had for sale. At that point, I’d read only the American books that were in print in the UK: Walter Farley, Mary O’Hara, Rutherford Montgomery and William Corbin. I had no idea at all what books to go for in the long list of authors I’d never heard of, so I asked Fran to pick out ones she thought were the best, and a bag of books made its way by M-bag over the Atlantic. I spent a marvellous few weeks reading my way through them all.
If ever Fran tells me a book is good, I believe her. There wasn’t a duff one in that bag, and in it were several titles by Jessie Haas. There was Runaway Radish, which is an absolute charmer of a book, with wonderful illustrations by Margot Apple. Jessie’s first book, Keeping Barney, was also in there, and its sequel, A Horse Called Barney. I loved them all, and enthused about them so much I sold them all in my next catalogue.
Several of her books are obtainable through Amazon, and I can thoroughly recommend them. She writes for all ages from picture books for the youngest children to books for teenagers. I only wish that the picture books had been around when my own children were small, as my (unsuccessful) campaign to indoctrinate them into the wonders of The Horse might have stood more chance of success.
Of her books currently in print, Sugaring and Appaloosa Zebra are both pitched at the youngest children. Appaloosa in particular is a dream of bliss for a small child who loves ponies. Birthday Pony and Jigsaw Pony are proper books, aimed at the 8–10s. They have dustjackets and cover illustrations that do not assume the reader is a brainless lover of cutesome fluff. My daughter, who is not a pony child, picked these up of her own accord and read them, even though they are technically a bit young for her.
Jessie Haas has plenty of books in the pipeline. She lives in Vermont, in a tiny house in the woods she and her husband built themselves. It still has outdoor plumbing: she said, 'You can get used to almost anything, including an outhouse at twenty below, and it's amazing how much self-control it teaches!'
Jessie has always loved horses, and her father read Walter Farley’s Little Black Pony so often to her they both knew it by heart. She read every pony book she could find until her mother told her to read something else, when she tried dog books, then westerns, before going back to pony books. After a school English lesson when the pupils were asked to write poetry on anything they wanted, Jessie wrote poems about horses, and found that writing was as much fun as reading. She says:
'I love the act of writing, I've learned to love rewriting, and I adore getting that first copy of a new book in the mail. But what I love best is knowing that out there in the world, kids are finding my books and curling up in private with them, having their own experience of them, and making of it whatever they will. The evidence of that is when I go to a library and see a beat-up, much-read copy of one of my books. I'll probably never meet the kids who read it, but I know it changed them somehow, as the books I've read changed me. That's why I do my best, every single time – because books matter.' (Jessie Haas - from her website)
Finding the books
Most of the books are very easy to find. Some are now coming back into print.
Links and sources
There is much more biographical information about Jessie on her own site.
Many thanks to Lisa Catz and Susan Bourgeau for their help with the pictures