Marguerite Henry was in a movie? How did I miss this when I was a kid devouring her famous horse books? There she was on my laptop screen, a slim senior with a tousled pixie hairdo retrieving a stack of fan letters from her mailbox.
Marguerite narrated, “When I was a little girl, I wanted more than anything to have a horse of my very own. As I grew older, grownups said I’d get over my longing for a horse, but I never did.”
I get you, Marguerite. I never grew out of that horse phase either.
It was 2021 when I viewed the surprisingly action-packed 1980 educational film about her writing process, Story of a Book. Marguerite researched in a library, jotted down notes, plinked keys on her typewriter, drove a Volkswagen van, admired a pinto in a pasture, then spied on her husband Sidney as he read a first draft of her manuscript on the patio.
If she noticed him looking confused or bored, she knew she had more work to do with her writing.
In the film, Marguerite had pep in her step, great posture and wore neck scarves in every scene. I sent a screenshot of my horse heroine driving her SW van to a friend, a graphic designer, who also grew up reading the Misty books. My friend texted back an altered version of the screenshot. Marguerite now drove the van wearing thug life sunglasses.
The film taught me that for every book, Marguerite worked through at least five different drafts and enjoyed, “revising and polishing a story. It’s like grooming a horse to make it shine.” After her manuscript had enough “grooming,” she would send it on to her publisher. At that point, sadness would engulf her, until the manuscript was returned, and she could dive into proofing and correcting typos.
A Google search revealed there was no shortage of sources to learn about the award-winning author Marguerite Henry, but I began wondering what her childhood was like. Could I find places and sources to help me create a sketch of a young Marguerite? What was she like as a little girl and teenager? What was her life like as a young woman and budding writer? Who was Marguerite Henry before she was famous?
For starters, I learned Marguerite was born in Milwaukee in 1902, to Louis and Anna Breithaupt. That was the same year my Grandpa Friedland was born. She was a Midwesterner, just like me. Cool.
A Chicago Tribune article revealed that when she was a girl, Marguerite’s family owned a mare named Bonnie. However, things were complicated with the family steed. “I wasn’t allowed anything to do with it. She was Bonnie by name and in appearance, but not in disposition. She had a habit of biting my brother in the breeches and leaving big teeth marks. Besides being a nipper, Bonnie was also a bucker and a bolter.” I speculated whether or not Bonnie had equine gastric ulcers.
Fred, her protective older brother fifteen years her senior, never gave her a ride, nor did he even permit her to touch their horse. That seemed a bit extreme. But after his ride, he would “waft me into the air as if I weighed nothing at all.” It’s as though Fred understood his little sister’s desire to ride, and he wanted to give her a way to soar. My guess is his toss was a safer alternative to riding.
Despite the fact the horse was a pill, the mare entranced Marguerite. As I found and read documents written by and about Marguerite, I discovered animals had mesmerized her since childhood. In a letter to a school district written when she was ninety-one, Marguerite described playing with her animals when she was a little girl, loving them so much she believed they would grow up and be able to talk. Placing them on her pillow, she would shut her bedroom door and go away for an hour, thinking upon her return, they would be able to speak “small words in a small voice.” While Marguerite had a childhood pet guinea pig, unfortunately, she didn’t specify if the animals she left on her pillow were real pets or stuffed animals.
Although her childhood animals never really spoke, the stories she wrote gave voice to horses, dogs, cats, foxes and a burro who speak to readers not in small words, in small voices, but in expressions and actions so memorable, the characters remain with us, twenty, thirty, forty, even fifty years after reading their tales.
I don’t remember at what point I discovered the woman whose heart yearned for horses did not get her first one until she was in her forties, but I admired Marguerite for her tenacity in holding onto a dream and bringing books into the world that were so packed with joy. Both as a writer and a horsewoman, at fifty, I wanted to grow up to be just like her.
Continue the story and immerse yourself in nineteen chapters of Marguerite Henry fun facts and the Misty backstory.