If you are new to the realm of horse books, or you are under the age of 30 and not from Maryland or Virginia, you might not be familiar with Marguerite Henry, the Newbery Medal-winning author of King of the Wind who also received two Newbery Honors (think reserve champion) for Justin Morgan Had a Horse and Misty of Chincoteague in the 1940s. To put it simply, she was THE horse book author of the 20th Century. She wrote dozens of books, she had thousands of fans, and the stories she wrote still live on. If you need further evidence of this, visit Chincoteague Island, Virginia and you'll understand.
This post contains affiliate links.
There's a segment of horsewomen who literally get misty when the subject of the horse book Misty of Chincoteague comes up. Marguerite Henry's tale of a palomino pinto foal who was the object of affection of Paul and Maureen, siblings who fell in love with her during the famous wild pony swim.
Was Misty of Chincoteague a True Story?
The story Misty of Chincoteague is fiction, but it is based on real events, real people (The Beebe family) and a real pony. The book has sold over a million copies, was made into a movie and an iconic Breyer model horse was made based on the pretty mare.
What is Marguerite Henry's History as a Writer (and Person)?
Marguerite Henry was a writer from childhood. Her father owned a printing business in Milwaukee so she grew up immersed in words. As an adolescent, she won a writing contest sponsored by a women's magazine, and she received a cash prize. That whetted her appetite to write.
In high school and college, Marguerite was active writing for yearbooks, involved in drama club, a Bible study and literary society. She graduated from what is now University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1922.
A year later Marguerite married her sweetheart, Sidney Henry, and they moved to Chicago. There she began writing for magazines. From magazines she began writing picture books, and then from picture books she moved on to longer stories for elementary school age children. That's when she hit her stride.
The above quick overview does not do Marguerite Henry justice. For further reading, you should peruse my Marguerite Henry biography, Marguerite, Misty and Me: a Horse Lover's Hunt for the Hidden History of Marguerite Henry and her Chincoteague Pony.
Justin Morgan Had a Horse: A Pivotal Story
Marguerite wrote a book about birds titled Birds at Home. My dad got a copy in the 1940s when he was a boy. I still have the copy. The pictures are gorgeous and brightly illustrated of robins and purple martins, cardinals and chickadees. After the bird book she set out to write a book about horses. She began researching various breeds. One breed captured her interest beyond the others, and that was the Morgan. She was known as a meticulous researcher, and so off she went to Vermont (from Chicago) to discover more about the sturdy breed. She came to love Morgans so much, she eventually bought one--but I'm getting ahead of myself--but I believe the horse in the photo header for this blog post is her Morgan horse Friday. Marguerite is on the left.
Marguerite abandoned (only temporarily) the horse breed book we'd come to know as Album of Horses in order to write the story of Justin Morgan Had a Horse. Her book was so excellent, it won a Newbery Honor.
After that she traveled to Chincoteague Island, fell in love with a foal she had shipped to Chicago, and that's she penned Misty of Chincoteague. The book published in 1947 also won a Newbery Honor, which I mentioned earlier. And for the first time in her life, Marguerite was a horse owner. She waited 44 years to get her first horse.
Misty became a media celebrity (but you can read more about her ascent in Marguerite, Misty and Me, my Marguerite Henry biography), and children around the country and world fell in love with the palomino pinto Chincoteague Pony. And they were eager for more Marguerite Henry horse books.
In 1949 Marguerite finally earned the coveted Newbery Medal--the highest prize for children's literature--for her book King of the Wind. Marguerite was in her late 40s when she really hit her stride as an author. She continued to crank out horse books, about one book a year until she was in her late 80s.
While researching the Marguerite Henry Papers at the University of Minnesota's Kerlan Collection, to gain insights for my Marguerite Henry biography, Marguerite, Misty and Me, I saw manuscripts she was working on in her 80s, and her final one that was published when she was in her 90s. Marguerite never retired.
In addition, I read scores of hundreds of fan letters. Marguerite Henry had so many fan letters she then published a new book Dear Readers and Riders, which responded to the most commonly asked questions, her fans wanted to know the answers to.
The journey I embarked on to uncover the woman, the writer, the horse lover Marguerite Henry was so joy-filled. I met people who knew her because they grew up near her in Wayne, Illinois. They went to the famous Misty birthday parties which drew hundreds of children--hosted in Marguerite's front yard.
I met middle aged women like myself who grew up reading all the Marguerite horse books, and who met her at book signings or lectures. They all conveyed how true and warm this iconic horse book author was.
I interviewed a man who used to actually ride Misty of Chincoteague when he was a little boy. The way he described Marguerite was, "She loved children, and she loved animals. She was the real deal."
I hope you will fall in love with Marguerite as I have and adventure with horses in the pages of her horse books.
If you'd like to stay in touch, please join my email list for horse lovers, equestrians and Marguerite fans. Click here to get in.