Horse Nation book critic happens upon My Sadie by Tasha Tudor, an illustrated middle-grade read with the relationship between a girl and a Percheron farmhouse at its core.
Draft Horse Special
One of the unforseen bonuses of this book review column has been how many horse books have come out of the woodwork. It has been fun receiving book suggestions from old family friends, former students, and of course fellow Horse Nationers. This week’s book, however, hails from my Aunt Judy. She is a fan of the late illustrator Tasha Tudor and remembered that one of Tasha Tudor’s daughters (Efner Tudor Holmes) had written, yep, you guessed it, a horse book. Then too, with a title like My Sadie, and a horse named Sadie in my backyard how could I not be excited to read the book?
I had no idea what to expect, but in the serendipitous way that what you focus on expands, it turns out that the Sadie in My Sadie is a black Percheron whom Jill is training to be a workhorse on her father’s farm. In other words, this book is the perfect companion for last week’s book,The Dirty Life. If your family is dorky like mine and you too happen to have a family book club, the adults could read The Dirty Life, and the kids could read My Sadie and everyone could talk about farming and driving draft horses! Hurrah!
OK, OK. So maybe you don’t have a family book club. Fine. Maybe you know some 8 to 11 year olds in need of Horse indoctriNation, in which case, My Sadie would be great. Aimed at middle-grade readers, it’s a chapter book with nice pencil illustrations (alas, not by Tasha Tudor—turns out there’s a juicy family estrangement story you can read about here. We follow 6th grader Jill as she struggles in school (because she would rather be with her horse than be in a classroom), overcomes her nerves to show Sadie, makes a new (HorseGirl) friend, acts responsibly when her family’s other Percheron Molly foals in the woods, trains Molly’s baby to drive, and eventually gets a job to help purchase hay for the horses when the farm’s hay crop is bad for two years in a row. She also (in another running theme among horse books) becomes a horse rescuer. All the characters (save the man who creates the need for horse rescue), including the snooty girl (named, gasp!, Erin) at the horse show are portrayed sympathetically.
The book is wholesome and well-written in simple, straightforward prose. It does focus almost entirely on plot but there are still lessons an astute kid will be able to glean from the events (about hard work, responsibility, friendship) and all of Jill’s interactions with horses center on developing trust and mutual respect. The world portrayed in the book, where horses are used to work the land, where neighbors come to help bring in the hay harvest, may seem idyllic, but the book touches on the difficulties of the family farm (the ruined hay harvest, the tight finances).
Oh yeah, and there are several instances where Jill has to prevent Sadie from running away while harnessed. Which is to say, I won’t be trying to teach my Sadie (or Lindy or Clue) to drive any time soon.