It's said that this is "the most wonderful time of the year." I'm not sure if that's true -- ask me after I'm done shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking -- and somehow preventing the cat from climbing to the top of the tree to gnaw on the angel's wings.
Thank goodness for Online Shopping Land, where both Amazon and Barnes and Noble are offering free shipping through the end of the week. Yup, there are bargains out in them thar' Internet tubes, and here are a few I stumbled across:
In 1963, long before Lauren Hillenbrand penned the bestselling Seabiscuit, one-time rancher Ralph Moody introduced readers young and old to the beloved Thoroughbred in Come On Seabiscuit!. Barnes and Noble reprinted Moody's book in 2004, and the hardback edition is available for $7.95 online. (Only $7.15 for B&N members. For a hardback with 172 pages! It's a steal.)
Come On Seabiscuit! would make a great gift for grade 4-6 readers, as well as ADHD grown-ups who never quite figured out all the 'Biscuit hoopla. Basics of the track (claiming races and such) are succinctly described, and the drama of the races is captured with clear and compelling language, as in this excerpt from Moody's account of the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap:
" With Seabiscuit in the center, they fought on around the end of the track almost head-to-head. Then, to stunned silence from the crowd, Wedding Call drove into the lead, bearing in a little as they whirled around the near turn and into the homestretch. Just what Red Pollard had feared most had caught up with them. They were in close quarters. The space between Whichcee and Wedding Call was barely wide enough to squeeze through. If he held Seabiscuit back and tried to go around, the race would certainly be lost. If he tried to drive between, the chance of breaking his own fragile leg was at least fifty-fifty. It was then that Doug Dodson, Wedding Call's jockey, heard Red praying aloud. An instant later his whip slashed down, and Seabiscuit shot through the narrow gap as though he'd been struck by a lightning shaft.Yes, it's a wonderful book, and it amazes me that this retro hardback edition is cheaper than the 2003 paperback from Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press.
"As if the same shaft had struck the grandstand, the crowd leaped to its feet, shrieking and yelling, "Come on Seabiscuit! Come on Seabiscuit!
"And Seabiscuit came on."
Man O' War: Best Racehorse Ever by Jennifer Guess McKerley is selling for $3.99 in paperback. Published late in 2005, this book features bold, colorful pictures and a simple vocabulary that make it a great choice for kids who are starting to read on their own. (It's fun to read to younger kids, too.) I smiled when I read the author's note at the end of the book:
"Man o' War had sixty-four sons and grandsons who became racing champions. He was Seabiscuit's grandfather."Well, that's one way to put things into perspective for preschool set.
I always feel at home on the Exclusively Equine website, and it's where I found another great buy: I Rode the Red Horse by Barbara Libby is priced at $4.95 for the hardback. Libby's illustrations are lush, and the text, based on quotes from Ron Turcotte, recounts the excitement of Secretariat's Belmont Stakes race. By the way, Exclusively Equine, "the official store of The Blood-Horse" can also be reached by phone at (800) 582-5604.
The A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy run from The Absent Author to The Zombie Zone, and kids in second through fourth grade just eat them up. Volume 18 in the series, The Runaway Racehorse is set in Saratoga Springs, where Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose discover the secret behind the disappearance of a valuable racehorse. It's a fun read for $3.99.
Recent years have seen reprints of the classic Black Stallion books by Walter Farley arrive at bookstores, where they're about $6 each in paperback. Last year, Yearling released a box set of four Black Stallion books: The Black Stallion, The Black Stallion Returns, The Black Stallion's Ghost and The Black Stallion Revolts just in time for the holidays. Amazon still has some of these sets, and this year they're selling for $16.29. Well worth it, if you have a ten-year-old on your shopping list. Boys especially seem to love resourceful young Alec, wise trainer Henry Dailey, and "the Black."
Left over from last year as well is Dreamer
by Cathy Hapka, a novelization of the movie starring Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell. Generally, I'm not much for these books-based-on-movies (I much prefer the books that spawn movies, instead), but girls seem to enjoy this one. And it does feature racing, something a lot of the "horse books for girls" leave out. My niece, the fourth-grader, reports that "it's just like the movie" and she really, really liked it. And, at $4.99, it's a lot cheaper than a DVD.
The rare subject of racehorse retirement is featured in We Go in a Circle by Peggy Perry Anderson. There's something a tad poetic about this gentle book for preschoolers that depicts an injured racehorse retired to a life in hippo therapy, which uses horseback riding as physical therapy for people with disabilities. The language is simple, the watercolor illustrations are sweet, and the message of feeling important and special is politically correct, but somehow the book avoids that sappy, condescending tone of so many "good-for-you" books. Perhaps it's the non-judgemental voice of its equine narrator. At any rate, the book charmed me, and Amazon has the hardback edition for $10, a third off the cover price.
I suppose it's never too early to expose young readers to a jockey's life, and Patsi Trollinger's Perfect Timing: How Isaac Murphy Became One of the World's Greatest Jocekys paints an accurate portrait of the skills and training involved with riding to the winner's circle. The illustrations are muddy and indistinct, filled with a sense of motion that enhances the racing story. The book also touches on the toll that "making weight" took on Murphy's health:
"The following spring, he went on another crash diet and became so weak that he contracted pneumonia. Isaac died February 12, 1896. He was only thirty-five. Two days later, more than five hundred people filled the streets of Lesxington for Isaac's funeral procession. Many of the grandest bouquets of flowers came from jockeys who had ridden against him."Elementary school readers seem to appreciate the clarity of the writing. At $11 for the 30-page hardback, it's not quite the bargain of the other titles I came across, but it is a beautiful introduction to racing history highlighting the achievements of perhaps our finest African-American jockey.
Perhaps the most unusual deal I discovered wandering through cyberspace was the book and bobblehead package deal over at FunnyCide.com. Yes, you can purchase an autographed copy of A Horse Named Funny Cide and a Funny Cide Bobblehead -- both autographed by Sackatoga Stables' Jack Knowlton -- for only $25. I can't speak to the bobblehead, but the book has a breezy, upbeat style that kids seem to like; for example, here's my eight-year-old nephew's favorite paragraph:
Down in the winner's circle, the Funny Cide team all celebrated together. Because that was one reason why Funny had won the race -- everyone had worked together to make him a winner. But there was another reason, too. As Barclay said, "He's really, really fast."It's worth mentioning, too, that the illustrations by Barry Moser are simply outstanding, with a realistic, vivid style that makes the racetrack come alive. As always, you could do worse than include Funny Cide on your ticket.
So go forth, dear Reader, to Online Shopping Land with courage, conviction, and credit card. And if you come across any other great deals, let me know -- I've got 11 kids to shop for!