A Good Horse
This contemporary book by Jane Smiley is published by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House Children's Books, and is written for kids ages 10 and up. Although this book is not part of a series, it is the second book that this author has written about Abby Lovitt. The first book is The Georges and the Jewels. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Abby Lovitt lives on a working ranch with her parents and nine horses. Jack is her horse. The family receives a note that asks if Mr. Lovitt had purchased a brown horse that had a foal the previous year. The horse was a thoroughbred and had disappeared from its owner's stable. The brown mare in question could have been Jack's mother, who died earlier, and the foal, Jack.
Abby likes another of the family's horses, Black George. At a local training center, Abby puts Black George through many jumps. Sophia Rosebury, who is rumored to be an Olympic rider, trains at the same center. Abby rides Black George in a show, but the final day of the show is on Sunday, and Abby's family believes that Sunday is for church. After many discussions, her parents decide that Abby can ride on Sunday. Because of that, Abby and Black George win the blue ribbon.
Abby's family receives another note from the horse investigator. He tells how four pregnant horses were stolen. Two were found and had their foals. One was found but died shortly thereafter. Only Alabama Lady was still missing. The investigator wants to come to their ranch to look at Jack to see if he is the foal of Alabama Lady — this may be the horse Abby's family called Pearl. Pearl died the previous year.
The next time Abby rides Black George at the training center, Black George clears a jump that is 4 feet high. When Abby learns how high the jump was, she grows scared and stops jumping. A few days later, she and her father return to the training center, but Abby refuses to jump anything high. Sophia quickly volunteers to ride Black George, and they easily take the high jumps.
Abby is jealous and now wants to do the jumps herself, but her father refuses. Only then does she realize that the whole point of her riding was to get Sophia interested in buying Black George. Abby's father tells her that they don't keep the good horses, like Black George, who is a diamond in the rough.
Soon after, Black George is sold to Sophia's family for a very large sum of money, more than Abby's family has ever received for a horse. The son of Alabama Lady's owner visits. Jack is the foal they are looking for. Although this type of a horse could go for $20,000, the man agrees to sell Jack to Abby's family for $5,000. Abby's parents, after many discussions, decide to pay for the horse, but Abby won't let them. She decides that her family has worked too hard to spend all their money on one questionable horse.
As it turns out, Abby made a good call. The “owner's son" was a swindler. When the real owners of Alabama Lady show up, they tell Abby's family that there is no possible way to track whether Jack is Alabama Lady's offspring for certain. They intend to bring their situation before the Jockey Club for a decision. If the Jockey Club decides Jack isn't the offspring, then the colt belongs to Abby. If they decide it is the offspring, then the real owners of Alabama Lady and Abby's family would own Jack jointly. Abby's family agrees with the compromise. No one knows if Jack is really Alabama Lady's foal, but deep down, Abby believes he is a thoroughbred.
When Abby realizes that she may have to give up her horse, Jack, she also realizes that she can pray to keep Jack. But she knows that she shouldn't pray for what she wants but for what is best for the situation. She wonders if she will be less likely to get what she wants if she breaks this rule and prays for what she wants. After all, breaking any of the rules of God is a risk in her mind. When a girl watching Abby and Black George demands to continue watching and refuses to find her mother, Abby's father walks over to her. Abby thinks he will give the girl a line about how she should honor her parents. This commandment is quoted in the text. Instead, he offers to walk with the child to find her parents. Her father thanks God that she remained on Black George when he went over a jump that had a ditch on the other side of it, jumping a distance of 15 feet. On Sunday, Abby's family attends church. She doesn't do homework on Sundays, so she has to finish her homework on Saturday. The whole of Sunday is devoted to church, being with their church family and having a church supper. Her father talks about the Bible verse that says it's difficult for a rich person to get into heaven. Abby's parents believe that God intervenes in their lives and works everything out for His good purpose. Abby's father believes that love comes from God, so a horse doesn't know anything about love. Therefore, he doesn't like anyone talking about how a horse loves its owner. When Abby talks to her father about what she should do to remember where to direct Black George in the show, he tells her to pray. When Abby's father and mother want confirmation that they should let Abby ride Black George on Sunday instead of going to church, they shut and open the Bible to see what words their eyes rest on first. At one point when Abby and her parents are tired but they have to help get a neighbor's cattle back to their neighbor's property, Abby's father kisses her mother's forehead and says that God will provide the strength they need to get through this situation. Abby says her prayers at night.
Other Belief Systems
The word stupid is used once. Abby's father says, “Lord have mercy," but in this situation, he may have meant it. Years ago, Uncle John was hit on the side of the head by a mule and died.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Why don't Abby's parents want her to ride Black George on Sunday?
- Why do they let her?
- Why don't they watch her show Black George on Sunday?
How is Abby's church similar to or different from our church?
What is new and interesting for Abby when she spends the night at the house of the twins from her school?
- When you have spent the night at someone's house, what have you found to be new and interesting?
What do you think your friends find new and interesting at our house?
What makes Abby love Jack more than the other horses?
- How will she feel if Jack is taken away?
- Why does she decide to let the false owner take Jack instead of letting her parents spend all the money they have to buy him?
What would you have done in her place?
Why does Abby's family sell all the good horses?
- Is that fair?
- Why do they keep doing it?
- How does Abby try to accept this?
- How would you accept this?
- How does God want you to treat others?
- How does Abby's family demonstrate this in a small way?
Books: Reference is made to three books that are on Abby's eighth-grade reading list: Great Expectations, Julius Caesar and one about a kid floating on a raft in shark-infested waters.
Halloween: At the end of October, Abby makes a paper-mâché horse head to wear as part of her Halloween costume. She goes to a friend's house for a Halloween party.
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Readability Age Range
10 and up
Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House Children's Books
Jane Smiley won a Pulitzer Prize as an author in 1992.