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What I am Reading Now: Fire Pony, by Sheila Ruble
A good story well-told does not have age guidelines for its audience. Fire Pony is written for a middle school audience, the protagonist is an 11 year old girl, but even though I am more than a half century older than the intended demographic for this book, I found it to be a real page-turner that I found myself picking up whenever I had a few moments to myself.
Cricket is growing up on a horse ranch. While her father works in town, her mother raises colts for sale. Cricket helps to train the horses. In brief, she has what for many her age would consider to be a dream job, but for her it is a burden. This summer, she is assigned to train a promising gelding but the horse turns out to be very difficult. They give the horse the nickname "Gonna Be," because someday he is gonna be a really excellent horse. Cricket seriously dislikes this horse.
In the end, though, Cricket is a better trainer than she herself realizes. She and Gonna Be perform beautifully as a team to rescue a couple of colts that got stranded in a remote pasture, in the face of an on-coming fire of catastrophic proportions. The real rub that develops in the story is that Cricket should never have been out with Gonna Be rescuing a couple of stranded colts. She puts her own life on the line.
Cricket has the quality of true bravery and she posseses a number of qualities that suggest she can grow up to be an outstanding leader. In a way, she herself is a "gonna be." The ethical dilemna implied in the book puts important issues within the range of 11 year olds to discuss: what is the nature of leadership?, what is the nature of bravery? what duty do we have to those in authority over us? what duty do we have to animals in our care?
The ending of the book came as a surprise to me but I have to say it was excellent and thought-provoking. The amount of growth in Cricket, as well as in her parents, was both significant and understated.