Wednesday Book Review: ‘Calico the Wonder Horse, Or The Saga of the Stewy Stinker’

“…Or, I’m Pretty Sure You Want This Book for Christmas.” Reviewed by Erin McCabe.

From Erin:

Since my son was born almost three years ago, I have been on a quest. Well, a couple of quests. One being how to eke out more riding time. The other being how to ensure my kid ends up liking horses. I walk a delicate balance between providing my son with the trucks and trains he loves and access to stuffed horses, Lego horses, and lots and lots of horse books, all in my attempts at Horse IndoctriNation.

My most recent find was owing to my son’s first plane flight (aha! a captive audience!). As a surprise, I purchased the never-before-seen (by any of us) book Calico The Wonder Horse, or The Saga of Stewy Stinker. When I finally opened up the book (on the plane), I couldn’t believe that I had missed this little gem in my entire life as a HorseGirl. First published in 1941, the book is described in the Publisher’s Note as being “ahead of its time” because it had a horse as a protagonist. Especially a horse who is described thusly: “She wasn’t very pretty… but she was very smart. She was the smartest fastest horse in all Cactus County.” (Disney Princesses, take that!) Calico then proceeds to have every single good idea in the book, allowing her to plan the capture of the Bad Men who have been rustling Cactus County’s cattle, come up with a surprise for the entire town on Christmas Eve using the reward money her cowboy Hank earns for Calico’s brilliant idea, and even bringing about the reform of the formerly Bad Men.

If you’ve ever had a smartypants, sassy mare with a heart of gold (or wished that you did), Calico is for you, even if you’re not a huge fan of Westerns (which this book most certainly is). Apparently, a horse this awesome was so scandalous, the publisher originally used the subtitle (with Stewy’s name changed to “Stewy Slinker”) as the actual title. But it’s not just Calico that makes this book fabulous. The black and white paneled illustrations (think large comic book) are also really striking. And, although it’s not a chapter book, at each turning point in the story, the color of the book’s pages change to help reveal the emotional shifts of the story.

I will say the story is a bit too long for a not-quite-three-year-old who really wants to read about construction trucks (sigh), and I’m sure the colored pages sailed right over his head. But it definitely belongs on any HorseGirl’s (or Boy’s) bookshelf, young or old.


Erin McCabe rides two OTTB mares and hopes to someday soon get back to competing at horse trials. Her first novel, I Shall Be Near To You, is forthcoming from Crown Publishing in January 2014. You can learn more at



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