Before I had even started writing my memoir Marguerite, Misty and Me, I happened upon people who wrote letters to Marguerite Henry, and she wrote them back.
For example, my first day of library research at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, Illinois, I walked up to the reference desk and told the librarian I was there to research Marguerite Henry, thinking I would need to explain about the children's author who wrote all those horse books like Misty of Chincoteague and King of the Wind. "Marguerite was a local so I maybe there are local newpaper articles from back in the day you can help me find?" (By the way, the Gail Borden Library was Marguerite's local library when she lived in Wayne at Mole Meadow.)
The librarian smiled, "I wrote Marguerite Henry a letter when I was in elementary school, and she wrote me back." She said she still had the letter.
Then I shared an Instagram post on my Saddle Seeks Horse account related to Marguerite and a fellow horse lover out West messaged me to say that she wrote a letter to Marguerite in the 1990s and Marguerite wrote her back!
When I finally traveled to the University of Minnesota where the Kerlan Collection of Children's Literature has the Marguerite Henry Collection archived in their climate-controlled, underground vault along the banks of the Mississippi River, I found several bankers boxes filled with fan letters and photographs.
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Some of the fan mail you could tell was written as a class project because a school teacher had probably read Brighty of the Grand Canyon or Stormy, Misty's Foal to the class and so a whole pile of 25ish letters were similar in their messages: "I really like the part where Brighty fought the mountain lion," for example.
Other letters were more heartfelt, like the ones where children opened up to Marguerite as though she were a confidante. I lost track of how many letters talked about how the writer dreamed of owner a horse of their very own. And some of the letters were interesting in that the young letter writer would ask a very specific horse breed or training question. I guess in an era before Google, YouTube and the Internet, if you had a horse question you couldn't find the answer to, Marguerite Henry would seem like your go-to person.
Marguerite received so much fan mail she began writing a newsletter in the late 1960s. It was a way to more efficiently answer repeat questions. Nine issues of the newsletter were created and that was followed up by the 1969 book titled Dear Readers and Riders, which was later re-titled Dear Marguerite Henry.
Bonnie had the honor of illustrating Marguerite's last book, Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley. In so doing she worked with Marguerite at her home in Rancho Santa Fe, California. She said Marguerite's office was filled with letters and artwork children would send Marguerite. She said that even into her 90s, Marguerite received mounds of fan mail and she delighted in it and would constantly change out the art on her wall. One of the first things Bonnie shared with me about Marguerite was, "She was the real thing, honey." She loved her readers and they loved her back.
For more fun facts about Marguerite Henry's relationship with her fans, snag your copy of Marguerite, Misty and Me: a Horse Girl's Hunt for the Hidden History of Marguerite Henry and her Chincoteague Pony.
Photo of Marguerite fans is from the Marguerite Henry Collection archived at the Kerlan Collection of Children's Literature at the University of Minnesota Libraries.