Winnie the Early Years Review of the New Series by Dandi Daley Mackall

2019 November 25

This new Winnie series (October 2018) is set a few years earlier than Winnie the Horse Gentler. Winnie’s mother is alive in these books. (in the Horse Gentler series, she has died in a car accident). These books are aimed at a younger audience—ages six to ten. Winnie is eight years old in these first two books. The story in book one is 78 pages long with very large type, 74 in the second book. 

Winnie Early Years book review

Book 1 - Horse Gentler in Training

Winnie’s mother, Emily, runs a horse training and boarding business on their ranch in Wyoming. Mr. Willis is an insurance salesman but would love to be an inventor. The family is having difficulty making enough money to pay the bills, and Mr. Willis fears they may lose the ranch.

“Winnie Willis, in the beginning God created heaven and earth and horses. And sometimes I have to wonder if the good Lord shouldn’t have quit while he was ahead.” p. 4

I have no idea what Emily means by that. People shouldn’t have been created? Then, she herself wouldn’t exist. It’s quoted in the Horse Gentler series as well as if it’s something profound.

Mr. Green boards his Thoroughbred, Royal Princess, at the Willis ranch. He always wears green and has twin sons, Austin and Simon, who are complete opposites. Austin is spoiled and demanding. Simon is kind and always speaks in rhymes. Royal Princess is not making progress as rapidly as Austin and Mr. Green would like. Winnie lies at school, telling her class that she’s been able to ride the mare.

Later, Winnie does get on Royal Princess, bareback. The mare rears, bucks, and bolts, and Winnie is thrown. Fortunately, she only suffers a sprained wrist.

An eight-year-old, bareback, on a relatively untrained horse—probably not a good idea.

The Greens threaten to move Royal Princess to another stable unless they see progress soon. One day after school, Winnie teaches Princess to bob her head up and down as if she’s answering ‘yes’ to questions, and side to side for ‘no.’ When the Greens arrive to move their horse, Winnie asks her questions, like “Are you happy at Willis Ranch?” Mr. Green is so impressed, he agrees to keep the horse there a while longer.

Next, Winnie teaches Princess to open locks. Why?? Then, surprisingly, the next time the Greens show up at the ranch, the horse is not in her stall. The pasture gate is open also.

Something hits me with the force of a horseshoe to my head. Princess unlocked the gates! And I’m the one who taught her. P. 66

As they search for the horse, Winnie smells horses and is able to locate Princess. Somehow, Mr. Green is impressed by all this and agrees to keep Princess at their ranch and pay three months board in advance.

Dandi Daley Mackall horse book review

Book 2 - A Horse’s Best Friend

Winnie and her mother have gone to observe a Mustang herd on the range. Winnie compares the bossy lead mare to a girl in her class, Tamson, who invited everyone but her to a party.

Surprisingly, chapter 3 begins with Mrs. Willis and Winnie arriving home with one of the Mustangs in her trailer. :)

Honestly, they could never catch a Mustang mare, let alone get her in a trailer—and home in one piece (horse or trailer). Emily backs her out and leads her to the pasture. In one of the Winnie the Horse Gentler books, the author has a lazy Appaloosa gelding jumping the pasture fence, yet here she expects this wild mare to stay in the pasture?

The BLM requirement for Mustang adoption is a six-foot-tall fence

DO NOT locate your wild horse housing where you will have to unload the animal into an un-contained area and try to lead it into the corral. THESE ANIMALS ARE WILD!!! You can't do that, and you are asking for a disaster. 

Then, Lucky, the wild mare, is released into the pasture with horses that are boarding at the Willis ranch. Yikes! :(

When Royal Princess charges at the newcomer, Emily stands between them, holding up both hands and telling her “No! Back!”. p. 19 Oh dear. Another recipe for disaster.

Tamson begins to give Winnie some attention, but makes fun of Simon. At first, Winnie doesn’t defend Simon. A parallel is drawn between the other horses not accepting Lucky and Winnie not feeling accepted by the kids at school.

Mr. Willis continues to come up with improbable inventions, such as spy shoes with the soles on backwards so that someone tracking the person will be confused by which direction the culprit is going.

Winnie realizes she hasn’t been a good friend to Simon. She declines Tamson’s party invitation when she finally gets it and invites Simon over to ride Chief with her. Simon is a little afraid of horses. So, they ride double, bareback, and gallop. Um, yeah. :) 

An eight-year-old on an 18 hand draft horse wouldn’t be able to get her legs far enough down the horse’s sides to stay on at a trot, let alone a gallop—and the inexperienced rider behind her would pull her off in a heartbeat. But, it is fiction. I just worry that young readers will try these things on real horses and get hurt. 

We are four friends on a ride I won’t ever forget: Simon, Chief, me, and Jesus. I know Jesus is here with us. Not just because I feel him in the sound of hooves beating, or the sight of the sun peeking through the clouds, or the jiggling of a friend’s laughter. He’s here because he’s a Friend who goes everywhere with me. p. 74

Is the series bad? 

There are good messages, but, as with the Winnie the Horse Gentler series, I have a hard time getting past the foolish and dangerous things done with the horses. It bothers me that the dad is not portrayed in a favorable light.

Do we really have to create such improbable stories to hold kids' interest these days? I'm not sure why Mackall feels the need to make the horse scenes so unrealistic.

Winnie the Horse Gentler Book Reviews

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