HN book critic Erin McCabe finds a lot to love about M. Garzon’s new horse book for kids, Awesome Possum.
While quite a few of the “classic” horse books for kids (e.g. The Black Stallion, My Friend Flicka, The Red Pony [don’t get me started just now], Calico the Wonder Horse) feature male protagonists, it seems to me that most horse-y books tend to be geared toward girls, often times (in the case of Georgina Bloomberg’s The A Circuit series) so aggressively focusing on fashion and gossip and shopping as to render them unlikely to appeal to most boys (as noted in several studies, men are far less likely to read a book written by a female author, and it seems this might also applies to books with female protagonists). Not so with M. Garzon’s latest book Awesome Possum, co-written with her children, Kaida Garzon-Habacon and Fen Garzon-Habacon, and complete with lovely black-and-white illustrations by Caroline Callender.
The story centers on 10 year-old Ben, who has just moved to the country with his newly divorced mom. While Ben might seem a bit rebellious, seen in the act of sneaking away from after-school care on page one, he’s got a good reason: He’s lonely and he misses the horses he used to ride back in Toronto. He makes his way to a nearby barn where he meets a girl from school—Sidney— and discovers a mysterious horse who, since coming to Dragonstone Farm, won’t let anyone near him. I don’t want to give away any of the events that follow, but just as she does in her Blaze of Glory series for older readers, Garzon doesn’t shy away from the bigger issues, making this story about much more than a boy who befriends a horse.
As a parent, I appreciate that Garzon emphasizes that there are consequences for one’s actions—both good and bad— and that perseverance and tenacity are important. Ben doesn’t get away with sneaking off to the barn, even though the reader will surely sympathize with his reasons—who wouldn’t want to skip after-school care to be with the ponies? And when Ben finally gets permission to take riding lessons, it takes a bit more effort until he convinces his mom and his trainer to let him work with the mysterious black horse, and even then, he isn’t able to gain the horse’s trust overnight. He works at it passionately, even making a phone call to his former trainer—readers of Blaze of Glory will get a kick out of who it is. A bit of a misfit with the boys at his new school, Ben finds friends at the barn—Sidney and VeeVee— and his friendship with Sidney in particular helps him get a toehold in his new classroom and a spot on the recess soccer team, developing Ben’s character and subtly making the case for kids being well-rounded compassionate individuals (the scenes between Ben and his bunny are a nice touch here).
In deceptively simple prose that never feels preachy, Garzon, through Ben, explores many of the ways in which kids can feel “other”—whether that’s being the new kid, or looking different, or having recently divorced parents—all of which are addressed in ways that might help a younger reader in similar situations come to a better understanding of the conflicts going on in his/her life. In other words, the story is chock full of conflict, which should keep younger readers turning the pages and guessing at the final outcome. If you’ve got a young horse lover on your hands (or if you don’t, but want to) this book is a perfect one to add to your Horse IndoctriNation library.
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, was published earlier this year. You can learn more at erinlindsaymccabe.com.