Cannan, Joanna

About the author

Joanna Cannan was not only the Pullein-Thompsons’ mother, but arguably one of the first, and best pony story authors.

Go to finding the books

Joanna Cannan’s Pony Books

Before Joanna Cannan wrote A Pony For Jean, pony books were generally a story told from the pony’s point of view. There were earlier books which took off in a totally different direction, like Hildebrand and Plum Duff and Prunella, which explored a fantasy world of horses who could talk, and do quite a few other unexpected things as well. Mary Oliver wrote of holidays with ponies, but Joanna Cannan’s stories started with Jean and were written from her point of view. Jean coped with a country world new to her, cousins who scorned her, and an almost uncanny ability to lose things and generally get into a muddle.

Joanna Cannan was always interested in the contrast between town and country (and was firmly on the side of the country). In A Pony For Jean, Jean’s family hit financial difficulties and have to move from London to the countryside. We Met Our Cousins looks at the clash between town and country: its heroes are town children, sent to Scotland, where they slowly learn to unbend. In the sequel, London Pride, the two Scottish cousins, Morag and Angus visit London and all four children treat London much as they did the Scottish Highlands. The later They Bought Her a Pony features an utterly urban child who finds the freedom of the countryside, and its attitudes, alien. There is hope for Angela Peabody (to stop her newly rich mother throwing away her horsy ornaments she buries them in a windowbox), but she expects money to solve all her problems. The horse-mad family she meets, the Cochranes, have no money but endless resourcefulness, in which I suspect they were like the Pullein-Thompsons. Eventually Angela realises that she is going to need more than money to get what she wants.

I Wrote A Pony Book was published in 1950, and was Joanna Cannan’s answer to the massive proliferation of pony books. Her heroine is away at school, where she cannot ride; she is awkward and independent and does not fit in with the school ethos at all. She doesn’t fit in particularly with the standard pony book plot either: there is no loving description of her pony’s schooling. Indeed, unlike her daughters, Joanna Cannan does not tend to concentrate on the schooling of pony and rider: Dinah, in Gaze at the Moon, says “I will not describe how we schooled Air Frost because it is all set out in books on how to school horses and really it was very simple.”

Gaze at the Moon, Joanna Cannan’s last children’s novel, is different. Probably my favourite Joanna Cannan, Armada published this as a paperback in the 1960s and my copy is still with me, though now in separate pieces. Dinah, the heroine, and her family live in the country but have just been moved to a new council house in a nearby town. Dinah’s stepmother and stepsister are distinctly urban in outlook: Judy, the sister, wants to be a hairdresser, and none of the family understand Dinah’s ambition to be an artist. Dinah loves her family despite their differences, and quietly, but with utter determination, she goes her own way. Dinah’s stepmother says: “Gaze at the moon and fall in the gutter.” Dinah’s reply is “I think you should gaze at it – if you do fall in the gutter you can get up again and at least you’ve gazed.” – an accurate summing up of Joanna Cannan’s attitude to life.

Joanna Cannan’s life

Joanna Cannan was born Joanna Maxwell Cannan in 1896. She was the daughter of Charles Cannan, Dean of Trinity College, Oxford, and his wife Mary, parents who lived their lives separately from their children: Mary in fact preferred adult company. Apart from school three mornings a week, Joanna and her two sisters relied on each other for company and amusement.

At 18, she thought that free love and painting in a Parisian garrett would be her lot, but she met and married Captain James Pullein-Thompson in 1918. Although he had a commanding presence, and a fine war record, he found earning money difficult and Joanna had to do something to supplement the family income. Perhaps her childhood taught her self-reliance: she certainly scorned convention. When her twins Diana and Christine were born, she was asked “Are your twins normal?” She replied: “Good God, I hope not.” At any event, she began writing, and her first book, The Misty Valley, was published in 1922.

She carried on writing for adults while her children were small. Family tradition has it that the monthly nurse said “Put away that scribbling Dear, Baby’s coming,” as Josephine made her entrance into the world. Her writing was well-received, and the family (Denis, the eldest, Josephine, and the twins Christine and Diana) were able to move to the country. They lived at The Grove, in Oxfordshire, a square white house with stables, and later, ponies.

Here Joanna carried on writing, while her children developed their own writing careers. She died on 22 April 1961, reciting Landor’s ‘I strove with none, for none was worth my strife”. Her eldest daughter, Josephine Pullein-Thompson, said: “We were lucky to have a lively and witty mother; who, though often critical, was never boring and never nagged.”

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Finding the books

Go to the Joanna Cannan titles available from the Jane Badger Books shop

Finding the originals

Jane Badger Books have republished They Bought Her a Pony, Another Pony for Jean, More Ponies for Jean, Gaze at the Moon, I Wrote a Pony Book, We Met Our Cousins and London Pride.

We Met Our Cousins and London Pride can still be found in their Fidra editions. They’re a bit more tricky as the original hardbacks. All the Jean titles tend to be expensive, particularly with dustjackets. The Knight paperbacks are less expensive, but still not usually cheap. They Bought Her A Pony is easy to find in its compilation printings. Gaze at the Moon is pricey, and even the paperback is now becoming difficult to find. I Wrote a Pony Book is now becoming expensive in any printing. Hamish is very easy to find as a Cavalier paperback: as a Puffin it is usually reasonably priced, though can be hard to find in good condition.

Sources and links
Pullein-Thompson, Josephine, Christine and Diana: Fair Girls and Grey Horses, Allison & Busby 1996
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Persephone Books have reprinted some of Joanna Cannan’s adult works.
Fidra Books
Clarissa Cridland has a little about Joanna Cannan in her pony book article for the Collecting Books and Magazines site.
Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Dawn Harrison and Lisa Catz for supplying many of the pictures in this section.

Pictures of Joanna Cannan copyright Crescy Cannan and used with thanks


A Pony for Jean
Another Pony for Jean
More Ponies for Jean

We Met Our Cousins
London Pride

Bibliography (pony books only)


John Lane, London, 1936, illus Anne Bullen, reprinted 1937, 1941
Knight, 1970, pb, uncredited cover, illus Sandra Archibald. Text slightly altered. Reprinted 1973
Knight, 1973, pb uncredited cover, illus Sandra Archibald
Brockhampton, 1970, hb, illus Sandra Archibald
Hot Key Books, 2014, laminated hardback
USA Edition: 1st 1937, Scribners, illus Anne Bullen. Probably identical to UK edn, except the dj background, which is red rather than green

Jean and her family have just moved out to the country.  The pony getting is actually quite effortless and happens in the second chapter, when her cousins give her a pony they call The Toastrack.  She renames him Cavalier, and the rest of the book is about Jean learning to ride Cavalier and even learning to jump.


Collins, London, 1937, illustrated by Anne Bullen
Fidra Books, Edinburgh, pb, 2006, illus Anne Bullen
Jane Badger Books, 2023, pb and eBook, illus Anne Bullen

Tony and John live in London with their Aunt, Uncle and spoiled cousin, and although they have some rebellious ways, really they are London children.  When they go to stay with their Highland cousins, they soon find a very different way of doing things, which in the end they absorb thoroughly, so much so that in the end they find it odd to wear shoes.


Collins, London, 1938, illus Anne Bullen
Brockhampton Press, Leicester, 1973, uncredited cover. No illustrations.
Knight, 1973, pb, uncredited cover. No illustrations.
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2021, eBook and pb

This is the book in which the Jean tries, and fails, to build a bantam house.  Jean has now been sent off to school with the rise in the family’s fortunes, and the action takes place in various school holidays.  Jean hunts Cavalier, and finds her first aid practised on the dining room table comes in handy when one of Lord Highmoor’s hunters hurts his leg badly.  Jean gets a reward for her quick thinking…

London pride

Collins, London, 1939, 148 pp,  illus Anne Bullen
Fidra, Edinburgh, 2007, 137 pp. Illus Anne Bullen.
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2023, eBook and paperback, illus Anne Bullen

Morag and Angus, the Highland cousins, come to London to stay.  It is as if a whirlwind has hit the quiet London square.  The four of them find and buy a badly treated pony, whom they name London Pride, and keep in the Square gardens, until they manage to wangle a countryside home for her.

More ponies for jean

Collins, London, 1943, illus Anne Bullen
Brockhampton Press, Leicester, hb, 1976, jacket & frontis Richard Kennedy, 150 pp.
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2021, eBook and pb

The more ponies of this title come about because Jean and her friend Judy start a riding school when they leave school.  


Collins, London, 1944, illus Rosemary Robertson
Reprinted 1971 in Three Great Pony Stories: Collins
Reprinted 1972 in The Vanguard Book of Ponies and Riding, Collins
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2021, eBook

Angela Peabody has everything she wants.  Her parents buy her a pony
when they move to the country and she assumes she will instantly win
everything in sight.  Things do not go according to plan, even when she
meets the horsy, but poor, Cochranes.


Puffin Picture Books 1944, illustrated by Anne Bullen
Reprinted by Cavalier in pb

Hamish starts off life in Scotland, but then life progresses in
unexpected directions.

I wrote a pony book

Collins, London, 1950, illus Sheila Rose
Brockhampton, 1977, jacket Richard Kennedy. Not illus.
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2019, eBook

Alison doesn’t much like school, and she is a disappointment to her parents (who wanted a boy) as she is not sporty and cried the one time she was taken shooting. The one thing she does like is riding, and she has a Western Isles pony called Marla. Alison’s English teacher is only interested in her pupils writing essays with her opinions, and not their own. One day she says to Alison, ‘If you know so much, why don’t you write a book yourself, Alison?’ And so Alison does.

gaze at the moon

Collins, London, 1957, illustrated by Sheila Rose
Collins, London, 1961
Armada (C112), London, 1965
Jane Badger Books, Northamptonshire, 2019, eBook

Dinah and her family have to move to the town, but Dinah does manage to continue her artistic career, find a horse (Air Frost) and illustrate a pony book.

Books for adults


Victor Gollancz, London, 1950, 183 pp.
Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1958, pb, 170 pp.
Linford (large print) 2000, pb, 344 pp.
Reprinted under different titles:  Poisonous Relations and A Taste for Murder

The Aston Park Guest House and stables does not mention, when one books, that murder is included. A guest is found dead one morning, and all there are suspects: the owner Sir Charlesd’Estray, his wife and her daughter, and the guests.