Spender, Brenda E

About the author

Brenda E Spender’s main contribution to the canon of pony book literature is the On’y Tony series. These are aimed firmly at a younger readership than the pony books which came after them. Pony books for decades tended to be for children of at least the age of ten, so Brenda E Spender was much before her time in concentrating on the younger reader. It is only now, in the 21st century, that pony books aimed at a younger readership have come to the fore.

Although the books do have period charm, and charming illustrations, they are perhaps a little cute for modern (and certainly my) taste.

Friends of Van is an adventure story for an older readership. It is more of a holiday adventure than a pony story, but does have lovely illustrations by Stanley Lloyd.

With the artist J H Dowd, Brenda Spender also wrote a trilogy of books about childhood (People of Importance, Serious Business and Important People). Under the pseudonym Elizabeth Steward, she wrote a title for Mills and Boon in 1932: The Unlikely Wooing.

Finding the books
All the Tony books are relatively easy and cheap to find, as is Friends of Van.

Links and sources
The British Library
Many thanks to Dawn Harrison for her help with the photographs.


The On’y Tony Series
On’y Tony
On’y Tony’s Circus
On’y Tony and the Dragon

Bibliography (pony books only)

On’y Tony

Country Life, London, 1935, illus Barbara Turner
Reprinted Junior Country Life Library, 1940, 96pp.

The blurb:

On’y Tony has lived abroad for most of his six years. He is sent to stay with his godmother, who turns out to be kind rather than the witch he is imagining. Soon Tony is learning to ride with the help of ponies Pickle and Crackers.

On’y Tony’s Circus

Country Life, London, 1936, illus Barbara Turner
Reprinted Junior Country Life Library, 1940
Reprinted 1949

“[On’y Tony] and his little godmother went for a riding tour on Exmoor and Tony was promised the most marvellous present of his life and became for one night a performe rin a travelling circus. In that circus was Bell, the nastiest and crossest little girl in all the world. At first Tony did not like her at all, but later on they became great friends…Her only brother, the Dragon, had been sent to a hated school and she was lonely without him.”

Many thanks to Dawn Harrison for the first edition photo.

On’y Tony and the Dragon

Country Life, London, 1938, illus Barbara Turner
Reprinted Junior Country Life Library, 1938

“In ON’Y TONY AND THE DRAGON we read about On’y Tony’s birthday and how the most marvellous present actually came to live with him and how he met with the Dragon [a boy] and through him did a great many very naughty things. But, as On’y Tony’s mother says at the end, it is rather difficult to see how he could have helpeddoing them and the story ends happily, with On’y Tony thinking quite cheerfully of school because the Dragon and Crackers and Pickle and the wonderful present and probably old Brown will all be there too.”

Many thanks to Dawn Harrison for the Country Life Library photo.

Friends of Van

Country Life, London, 1949, illus Stanley Lloyd

Van is training for the Merchant Navy. After he is accused of cheating and dismissed, he meets Bip and Tina. After adventures involving riding, fighting, kidnapping and a cave, Van is finally vindicated.