Misty of Chincoteague Book Review

2023 February 25

misty of chincoteage book review sonrise stable

I'll admit, I'm downright picky when it comes to evaluating horse books for children. What are some of the standards I use for formulating an opinion on the worthiness of these books?

  1. Is the book well-written, free of grammatical and typographical errors?
  2. Does the book have a wholesome message, appropriate for children?
  3. Does the book present proper relationships and interactions between adults and children? (A consistent pattern in modern children's books is that the children are either on their own or are wiser and smarter than the adults/parents.)
  4. Is the horse information factual and the interactions of the characters with horses believable?
  5. Closely related to the former is the horse safety factor. One of my pet peeves is when young characters do horribly dangerous things with horses, yet everything turns out fine.
  6. I'd love for all these books to contain references to Christianity, to display a reverence for God, depict our reliance on Him, and acknowledge Him as the Creator and Sustainer of our world, but sadly that is rare.

How does Misty of Chincoteage stack up against my standards?

1. The Writing:

Marguerite Henry is a master of descriptive language. Her description of the storm that causes the shipwreck is a great example.

"The sea became a wildcat now, and the galleon her prety. She stalked the ship and drove her off course. She slapped at her, rolling her victim from side to side. She knocked the spars out of her and used them to ram holes in her sides. She clawed the rudder from its sternpost and threw it into the sea. She cracked the ship's ribs as if they were brittle bones. Then she hissed and spat through the seams." chapter 1

I also appreciate that Mrs. Henry doesn't "dumb down" the vocabulary. She often uses words children might not be familiar with, but this is a great way to expand a child's vocabulary. (In my video course, I define a lot of these words and provide quizzes that include them.)

Mrs. Henry has the grandfather speak in an ungrammatical, local dialect. I had difficulty reading and deciphering that sometimes. This might cause some stumbling for beginning readers. Here's an example from chapter 6.

"I hain't rode on a roundup to Assateague for two year, but I recommember we allus had a chaw and a goody after the ponies was rounded up and afore we swimmed 'em across the channel. Here Paul, here's a choclit bar fer ye to take along."

2. The Message:

The basic plot line of the book is that brother and sister, Paul and Maureen Beebe, work to earn money to purchase the Phantom, a wild pony from the island of Assateague. Paul and Maureen get along with each other for the most part and work together to achieve their goal. Their parents are strangely absent, off to China. Their absence is never explained or even mentioned again. Paul and Maureen live with their grandparents on Chincoteague Island.

One thing that bothered me is the author frequently having Grandpa Beebe use what is known as "minced oaths." I could have done without these, but they might not bother some people. Here's the worst example. It's not hard to figure out what those words were a substitute for.

"Now then," Grandpa repeated, "stop that gol-durn whittlin' and step up, Paul." chapter 16

Another thing I found mildly annoying was the frequent mention of hair that apparently grew profusely in the grandather's ears. I could have done without that, but again, maybe that's just me. :)

3. Adult/Child Relationships:

As stated previously, the parents were written out of the story. Paul and Maureen don't appear to miss them as they're never mentioned after stating that they're in China. The siblings are respectful to their grandparents and other adults. They initially hide from their grandparents the reason they want to earn money, but eventually they do tell them they want to purchase the Phantom. The kids are hard-working and get along well with each other, the only exception being briefly when they both want to ride the Phantom in the pony race. 

4. Horse Information:

There are a few small things I'd quibble with (for example, calling all young horses, colts rather than foals), but overall the author does a good job presenting factual horse information. 

Mrs. Henry effectively weaves the details of the pony roundup, swim, and sale into her story. This event has been held on Chincoteage for nearly 100 years and still occurs each year in July. My girls and I attended it in 2003, so I can confirm that much of what is presented in the book still matches the modern event.

5. Horse Safety:

This book is nowhere near as bad in this area as many children's horse books I've read, but there are a few places where the kids do unwise and potentially dangerous things.

For example, a couple times they go into the corral with the "wild" ponies that have been rounded up. Apparently things were more relaxed back then. I can't image any of the spectators today being allowed into the pony corral. At one point, Paul is knocked down by the stallion, the Pied Piper, and is, of course, unharmed.

One of the central events of the book is when Paul jumps into the water to save the foal, Misty, swimming alongside her and holding her head above water. That seems totally unrealistic to me, but who am I to ruin a good story. :)

6. Christian Aspects:

Although the book is fairly wholesome, there are minimal spiritual references and no church attendance. At least Christianity is not spoken of negatively. There's an oblique reference to Noah's flood in chapter 2 where Mrs. Henry says that the ponies had spent forty days and forty nights in the hold of the galleon.

"Prayed" is used three times. 

"He (Paul) trembled, not from cold, but from fear that what he prayed was a mare and her colt would turn out instead to be bags of feed." chapter 11

"And may the best hoss win!" prayed Grandpa as he nervously fingered the bristles of his ear. chapter 15

"Phantom!" she (Maureen) prayed. "Oh, Phantom! Get a-going! It's a race." chapter 17


My Verdict

This book was written in 1947. For more than 75 years, it's remained one of the most popular children's horse books. Our country, in general, was a more moral place at that time, especially in small towns like Chincoteague. The slower-paced, small town, coastal setting of the book is appealing. Misty of Chincoteague is generally wholesome and presents factual horse information. I consider it an acceptable book for children, with the reservations I noted above.

Although pony penning was held long before Marguerite Henry wrote about it, this book caused the event's popularity to explode. Today, approximately 50,000 visitors throng to the small island of Chincoteague each year to observe the events and possibly purchase one of the foals.

Marguerite Henry went on to write three more books in the Misty series - Sea Star, Stormy Misty's Foal, and Misty's Twilight.

misty of chincoteague series by marguerite henry


Check out my interactive video course on Misty of Chincoteague. Students will learn about the annual Chincoteague pony roundup, pony swim, foal auction, and the "wild" Assateague ponies in this self-paced, interactive video course on the best-selling book by Marguerite Henry.


misty of chincoteague online quiz

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