Snyder, Zilpha Keatley

About the author

Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1927–2014) had sorted out her priorities by an early age. Of her earliest memories, she said “I see most vividly animals and games and books. People are there, too, my mother and father and older sister, but in those earliest memories they are much less distinct.” Zilpha’s father had grown up on a ranch, and having animals about was important to him, and the family had a wide ranging menagerie. Zilpha could read by the age of four and was something of a neighbourhood oddity, as she hadn’t actually been taught. Her mother, she said, taught her indirectly: “I think she used two methods which are almost certain to produce an early reader. First of all, she read to us – a lot. And then, when I tried to horn in on my sister’s reading lessons, she told me I was too young – a challenge that no self-respecting four-year-old is going to take Iying down.”

Zilpha’s father had a childhood much like Gib’s in her two later horse books, Gib Rides Home and Gib and the Gray Ghost. After his mother died, he and his two brothers were placed in an orphanage by their father, who promised to send for them. He never did, and William was circulated round various people who needed a ranch hand. His experiences were brutal, but did not brutalise him, and when his father did eventually get in touch with him again when William was in his 40s, he responded, and became close to his father’s new family. Although both parents had ample experiences to draw on when telling Zilpha stories, in her childhood she had to rely on her imagination when telling her own tales, being thankfully short of major life disasters herself. Her mother would say “Just tell it. Don’t embroider it.”

After going to college, marrying, raising a family and working as a teacher, Zilpha’s first book, The Season of Ponies, was accepted by Atheneum. This was her first book, and Atheneum was the first publisher she tried, but the acceptance wasn’t a fulsome letter of delight; it was two pages of what she needed to do to improve the story. She did it, and after the third complete re-write, the book was accepted and published. Although this book was a horse story, she then took off into other genres, and three of these books (The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid and The Witches of Worm) were Newbery Honor books.

She continues to write: “… I write for joy, my own and my imagined audience’s… So I enjoy writing for an audience that shares my optimism, curiosity and freewheeling imagination. I intend to go on writing for some time, and though I may occasionally try something for adults, I will always come back to children’s books, where I am happiest and most at home.”

Finding the books
The two Gib books are easy to find, and cheap. Season of Ponies is a lot harder, and can be expensive. None of the books were published in the UK.

Links and sources
The author’s website (still extant but appears to have be used for other purposes)
The author on Wikipedia
A little bit more biographical information, and more here.
Many thanks to Susan Bourgeau, Hannah Fleetwood and Elizabeth TeSelle for all their help with this section.


Gib Rides Home
Gib and the Gray Ghost

Bibliography (horse books only)

The Season of Ponies

Atheneum, New York, 1964, 133 pp, illus Alton Raible
Dell, New York, 1988

Pamela lives with two old aunts, and finds it awful. Then a boy appears out of the mist, with a flute, and a herd of strangely beautiful ponies.

Gib Rides Home

Delacourte Press, New York, 1998, 246 pp
Dell/Yearling, 1999, cover, Ben Verkaaik (right)
Thorndike Press, 2002

It is the early 1900s: Gibson Whittaker is 11, and an orphan. His greatest wish is to belong to a real family, and he is jealous when Georgie Olson gets adopted. However, all is not at it seems, and Georgie has actually been sent to a ranch to work as unpaid labour until he is 18. Then Gib himself is farmed out, and it seems like the home he has always wanted. Gib learns to be a
wrangler, and can “talk” to horses. However,  there are tensions in the family, and Gib wonders if he will every really belong anywhere.

Gib and the Gray Ghost

Delacourte Press, New York, 2000, 230 pp
Dell/Yearling, 2001, cover Ben Verkaaik (right)
Thorndike Press, 2003

Gibson Whittaker is leaving orphanage again, and going back to the Thornton family now that Mr Thornton has died. Things have changed on the ranch, and Gib is allowed to go to school, but he is still working in the barn and stable. Looking after the horses makes things better for him, and then one morning an abused grey horse appears out of the snow. Gib has to find some way
to help him.