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*The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt* by Walter Farley- young readers book review

Also by Walter Farley:

The Black Stallion's Sulky Colt

The Black Stallion's Blood Bay Colt
by Walter Farley
Ages 9-12 304 pages Yearling May 2006 Paperback    

Horses: to some people, those who truly love them, they are the most endearing animals in the world. The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley are good, wholesome, entertaining books sure to please horse lovers of all ages, and the re-release from Yearling Books is welcome, sure to bring this series to the attention of many new fans. I count myself as one of this number; though I’ve seen the movie based on The Black Stallion with my kids, I’ve never read any of the novels until recently.

The Black Stallion’s Blood Bay Colt takes the reader into the life of young Tom Messenger, and his love for the colt of Black (the stallion of the title) and Queen. Tom helps an aging harness racer, Jimmy Creech, and Jimmy’s friend George Snedecker raise and train the colt he names Bonfire, and eventually he rides it himself in harness races.

As the story opens, Jimmy Creech charges Tom with watching over the pregnant Queen. Tom lives in Coronet, Pennsylvania, but is staying at his Uncle Wilmer and Aunt Emma’s farm for the summer. Jimmy Creech has never made much money racing the county and state fair circuit, but he knows his stuff and believes that Queen and Black’s foal, when it comes, will be a great harness racer. Still, he thinks he is getting too old to wait two years for the foal to be trained and ready to race; he is sixty-two and very tempted to sell the pregnant Queen to bring in some much-needed money. However, when Tom and George start pulling at the crotchety Creech’s heartstrings, Jimmy claims that the man who came to buy Queen “wouldn’t give me my price,” and Tom ends up taking care of the mare on his uncle’s farm while Jimmy and George go off to their own farm and a season of racing another horse, Symbol.

Tom takes good care of Queen, though he is not confident he can handle the responsibility of helping her when she foals. Jimmy gives him money to buy feed and other supplies he’ll need, but when his Aunt Emma’s sister Tillie feels “sick” (she’s really just lonely and wants attention) and his uncle and aunt go to visit her overnight, he fears that the mare will pick that night to foal and he won’t be able to help her if problems arise. His uncle doesn’t think Queen will foal for another couple of weeks, but, predictably, she does have her colt, early in the morning. Tom has set his alarm to go off every two hours because he is so anxious and worried. He misses the actual birth but is there to wash the colt off afterwards, and he ends up giving the beautiful blood bay horse the name Bonfire. The dictionary Tom refers to tells him one meaning of a “bonfire” is a fire that can be used as a signal. The colt, he says, will be a “signal to everybody now that he’s on his way, starting today.”

Much of the book is about Jimmy’s and George’s limited success racing Symbol while Tom lives on his Uncle Wilmer’s farm raising and training Bonfire until he can begin his harness-racing career at two years old. Jimmy never earns much money racing Symbol, but he loves the sport, and makes enough money to survive, however barely. That strain, along with the sense of a younger bunch of people taking over the grand sport and ruining it, aggravate his ulcer; he has frequent stomach problems that often double him over in pain. Eventually, when a doctor tells him the ulcer has become perorated, he learns he needs an operation. But, where will the money come from to pay for one?

Tom ends up taking over the reins, quite literally, when Bonfire joins the ranks of two-year-old horses. He has only moderate success at first, because he’s learning along with Bonfire. He doesn’t win every race but has enough success to help with the bills and realize that Bonfire is an exceptional colt that will only get better with time. This provides realism to the book, as there is no immediate rise to super-stardom for Bonfire. When Jimmy’s operation happens, though, the only way his friends figure out that they’ll be able to get the funds necessary is to race Bonfire in a nighttime harness race in New York City. But entering him in a night race in a big city goes against everything Jimmy holds almost sacred about his chosen sport, and they would be competing against the best, fastest horses in America. Will Tom Messenger win? Will Jimmy Creech be able to have his much-needed operation? What do you think? Though it’s somewhat predictable, The Black Stallion’s Blood Bay Colt is a fun book that any lovers of horses and family-oriented stories should find highly entertaining.

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  Douglas R. Cobb/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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