14 November 2005

Children's Book Week: Racetrack Reading (Part 1)

Since 1919, Children's Book Week has been celebrated during the week before Thanksgiving. In other words, it's likely this has been going on your entire life. You remember those celebrations of yore, right? No? I didn't think so. Libraries and the Children's Book Council are almost as successful at marketing as the NTRA.

Still, it's a great time to think about children's books -- and the kids in your life. The holiday season is fast approaching, and there's no better gift for the youngsters in your life than books that capture the excitement of the track and the achievements of the horses and jockeys.

Horses are popular subjects, and if you check amazon.com or bn.com, you'll be swamped with results that feature girls learning to ride show horses or mustangs yearning to run wild, with various editions of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty and Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry tossed in. Many of these are fine stories (especially Henry's), but they don't provide a picture of the racing world.

So, to help you find books you'll enjoy talking about with kids, I've listed a few of my favorites below. Share 'em with the young readers in your life and help to raise the next generation of racing fans.

**** A Horse Named Seabiscuit by Mark and Cathy Dubowski. (Grosset & Dunlap: 2003)
A great book for kids who are just starting to read alone, this little book captures the feeling of the time period in simple language, while highlighting the quirks of the beloved racehorse. My favorite line comes after a description of the Biscuit's loss to Rosemont in the Santa Anita: "The big race had turned out to be a big loss for Seabiscuit. But Seabiscuit got over it."

*** I Rode the Red Horse: Secretariat's Belmont Race by Barbara Libby. (Eclipse Press: 2003)
Gorgeous pastel illustrations and text based on Ron Turcotte's description of the 31-length win are the highlights of this book for pre-schoolers on up.

*** Seabiscuit vs. War Admiral by Kat Shehata. (Angel Bea Publishing: 2003)
An unusual book for readers age 8-12. Its picture book format implies a younger audience, but the language is definitely for older children. Across the top of each page is an illustration by Jo McElwee with a thick paragraph of text at the bottom. Dividing each page is a single line from the announcer's call of the race. I found it annoying at first, but it grew on me -- and it's kind of fun to go back and read the whole call straight through. Includes a racing glossary and information about NTRA charities.

Thoroughbred Racing by Kent Baker. (Chelsea House: 2002)
This book offers a surprisingly detailed look at most aspects of thoroughbred racing: breeding, training, and the racing circuit. Nicely packaged with sidebars and full-color photos throughout, it includes the kind of facts that pre-teen boys especially seem to love. It even describes pari-mutuel betting, take out percentages, and the like. A sizable portion of the book is devoted to mini-biographies of well-known horses like Secretariat, Cigar, and Affirmed. One highlight: the photo of Man O'War in his coffin. (How often do you get to see something like that?)

Ruffian by Dorothy Callahan. (Crestwood House: 1983)
The most notable features of this book are the rare black-and-white photos scattered throughout the text. There's a pic of Ruffian's first rider (John Truesdale), her groom (Dan Williams) and even a photo of the x-rays of Ruffian's tragic injury. The text seems well-researched and is easy to follow. Yes, it has a sad ending, but it's done well. Includes a glossary of terms like "breeze" and "racing secretary" that is helpful for the 8-10 year-old set. It's out of print -- though Amazon lists two used copies available for $60. That's a bit much for a 44-page kid's book, but if you can find it at a reasonable price, grab it.

Later this week, I'll post some of my favorites for older kids. Till then, party on! It's Children's Book Week.


Tote Board Brad said...

I bought I Rode The Red Horse: Secretariat's Belmont Race for my girlfriend's niece based on your recomendation, and she loves it.


Thank you so much for the wonderful "Secretariat" book for Kyra. It's such
a suspenseful, dramatic, well-written book -- we're really enjoying it.
Kyra's been to the races before, so she understands the nail-biting fun of
it all. Thank you for sharing it with her.


So, when is part 2 of Children's Racetrack Reading coming out?

QQ said...

EEEK! Someone actually noticed that I just suddenly quit with the Children's Book Week thing. I kind of assumed that no one was reading, and I could quietly slide that one by. I'm in total shock that anyone noticed...and actually used it for a Christmas present idea! Even though I do this kind of stuff all day, and have for years, I still get breathless when I can help bring books and people together. It's better than a quinella (though not as good as an exacta at the Breeders' Cup!)

Truth be told, I really did plan to do a part 2 highlighting my favorite race-related kidstuff: The Black Stallion series. I even got so far as to upload an old photo of the author Walter Farley before my boss had surgery and I got to run the show at work.

So now that I've got audience demand, I may have to resurrect the Children's Racing Reading sometime this spring. Maybe for Freedom to Read Week in February? Or Read Across America Day on March 2? Or National Library Week in April (Who knew there were so many days devoted to reading, huh?) Let me know if there's a birthday you'll be buying for, and I'm sure I'll be able to find another reason for the kids books.

Rising Rainbow said...

I noticed too, I just hadn't said anything. I love to hear about the children's horse books.

Tote Board Brad said...

i'm still waiting on part 2 of this post. seriously. i need this.

at least help me out with some pre-school aged selections. throw me a bone, here, qq.