09 December 2006

CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: Sleigh Bells for Windy Foot

It started in our elementary school library, which had a good collection of the popular books at the time: Beverly Cleary, the Danny Dunn and Miss Pickerel fantasy books, the standards like Little Women and Treasure Island. But my favorites were always the animal stories. I coveted them all, especially Charlotte Baker's The Green Poodles, but held a special fondness for Frances Frost's three books about the Clark family in Vermont and their pony, Windy Foot. (I didn't find out until I was an adult that there was a fourth Windy Foot book.)

Although Windy Foot is always in the titles, he's not the total focus of the series or some type of super-Lassie equine. The stories really revolve around the Clark family: Mom, Dad, the main character, elder son Toby, younger sister Betsy and little Johnny, who makes rhymes when he's happy, and their faithful farmhand Cliff. It's post World War II in the Clarks' world; they live on a dairy farm near the Crooked River and live with electricity in the home, but a wood stove for cooking and heating, and lanterns in the barn and stable. There's no television, just a radio, and they own a truck but often use a buggy (or in the winter a sleigh) to get to town; in short, like a lot of small farm families back in the late 1940s. When Toby and Betsy and even little Johnny aren't busy doing chores, they hike, ski, swim, gather nuts, have fun with their friends or shopping in town—all without the help of electronic conveniences.

In the Christmas edition of the Clarks' adventures, they are eagerly awaiting their friends the Burnhams, who will be visiting for the holidays. Toby awaits the gifts he's bought from the mail-order catalog and rebuilds a big sleigh into a smaller one for Windy Foot, Mom cooks up Christmas goodies, the kids hunt up evergreens and berries to deck the house, and Dad and Cliff keep their eye on a cow about to give birth. The family attends a carol sing in town and does Christmas shopping at the general store. But danger is looming, too: a bear is stalking the neighborhood and threatening the livestock.

The Clarks' lives sound hard, with the farm taking first attention. But after reading about their enjoyable Christmas preparations, you almost wish you were out there pitching hay with them. Much recommended for lovers of New England Christmases and just plain old-fashioned enjoyment, no matter what age you are.

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