28 January 2015


Reading Diary: Saddle Club #1: Horse Crazy by Bonnie Bryant

"You know, Lisa, I understand horses. They make sense to me. It's people who are confusing. Stevie wants to go on the [Mountain Trail Overnight] so badly, but she's doing absolutely everything wrong. First, all she had to do was a Math project, but no, that wasn't good enough for Stevie. So then, she decided to earn money, but no, she's too good to do the work. I never saw anybody so eager to turn jobs over to other people. So then, while she isn't doing any of those things, she's busy getting Max so angry with her that might not let her go on the trip. Some fix she's getting into."

"Listen, you tell me about horses, and I'll tell you about people," Lisa said . . . "Stevie isn't so dumb . . . [She] isn't giving work away, she's selling it!"

What I love about the juvenile series of my childhood--which I never actually read during my childhood--is how strongly they bring back the first decade of my life for me. Which is not to mean the 1980s that I actually lived through, but the 1980s that I imagined everyone else was living through in another part of the world: a decade exemplified by the toy and snack commercials that got taped over along with the Saturday-morning cartoons that an aunt in California sent over on Betamax. (Oh, Betamax!)

So it doesn't really matter that I never had a proper riding lesson during the decade, much less friends who shared a hobby I was passionate about. Two paragraphs into Saddle Club #1: Horse Crazy and I was back in a world I would have known on Jupiter.

A world where a "complete breakfast" meant trademarked processed grains,
with milk, orange juice, and buttered toast

(Did anyone actually eat like that? Tell me!)

It is also, I soberly reflect, a lost world--and not just because the fashions have moved on. The economy has moved on, too. And so Stevie Lake's big scheme to make enough money to pay for the Mountain Trail Overnight camp out that she is desperate to join might not be possible for other horse-crazy girls today . . . for likely the same reason it wasn't possible for me in my own 1980s and following.

I don't dare to analyse the economic factors at play, but according to several sources, the teen unemployment rate is quite high these days. And according to the"anecdata" I get to read, it's not that the jobs which young people could do suddenly became unavailable, but that more people are willing to compete for them. I buy it because it fits my own experience. One reason why my teenage self couldn't get simple after-school jobs was that I was competing with older people who did the work full-time and needed it more: you won't hire a baby-sitter from among the neighbours' older children when you already have a live-in nanny in her twenties who has made your own children her career. I was finally able to do some glorified baby-sitting during my underemployed after-school tutor years . . . but I wouldn't have been hired without a uni degree. All the children I tutored already had full-time nannies, but the latter hadn't been to college (sometimes not even high school) and so weren't considered qualified by the parents who hired us both. (For the record, there was a least one nanny whose simple humouring of her tutee's ideas of fun was better for the girls' learning than anything I was doing.)

Of course, for me, it was also cultural: if I had gone from door to door in my childhood village, declaring my willingness to do yard work or the like, my neighbours' full-time servants would have assumed I was joking and not even let me see their bosses . . . and my grandparents would have been humiliated. =P And if I were still a teenager and tried it in my current area . . . let's just say I'd have more luck selling cookies out of my kitchen. (I know because I have sold cookies out of my kitchen, at a time when it was the only thing I could do.)

But don't let me make any assumptions about where you live, dear reader. Tell me yourself how successful a flyer like the following would be in your neighbourhood today:

I'm desperate for money!
Please hire me to do odd jobs for you.
Nothing is too big or too small for me.
I'll do any kind of honest work.
I must have cash immediately to put a shelter over my head and food on my plate!
Signed, A Starving-Twelve-Year-Old.
Call 555-7823 and ask for Stevie.

Stevie is my favourite character, by the way. =)

Thanks to that ad copy, our hard-working girl gets called to clean pools, to muck out gutters, to rake yards, to clear out attics, to walk dogs, to water plants, to put up wallpaper, to deliver newspapers, and of course, to baby-sit. And there's so much work that what she can't do herself, she passes on to other kids who are also saving up for stuff they want--like her nine-year-old brother who wants a five-gallon fish tank. Would this happen in your area today, dear reader--or in any neighbourhood you've ever lived in?

Indeed, it's so fantastic that it begs the question of how economically realistic these 1980s juvenile series even were. (I'm assuming they're all set in the same world.) I recall an article by someone who had loved The Baby-sitters Club when she was the same age as the characters but couldn't get hired to baby-sit, much less make a business out of it, because all the part-time childcare jobs went to high school kids! I guess these books were aspirational for the majority of their readers.

And unless a girl actually hated horses, she probably would aspire to a course at Pine Hollow Stables--just like shy new girl Lisa Atwood, who gets to be the reader's "Sue" in this introduction to the Saddle Club world. Lisa starts out unsure of both her own abilities and the more experienced riders in her class; but of course, she turns out to be a natural (LOL!) and after a few bumps in the road, bonds beautifully with the irrepressible Stevie and the latter's calmer, more mature best friend Carole Hansen. It's a plot that has been done to death in children's books--and it's definitely less interesting than Stevie's hilarious money-making scheme in the subplot.

If this first Saddle Club book is typical of the rest of the series, then I won't be looking too hard for the next book. (On the other hand, I'm still desperate for BSC #14: Hello, Mallory.) To be honest, the part I liked the most--even more than Stevie's antics and all the vague 1980s bling--was the bonus essay on equestrian events in the Olympics, which was written not by the primary author Bonnie Bryant, but by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, who would ghostwrite later books in the series. Still, Horse Crazy does fairly well as an introduction and makes an okay portal back into the 1980s I never lived through. If I do stumble across Book #2, Horse Shy, I'll read it in the hope that Lisa, Stevie, and Carole get a big "complete breakfast" scene in it!

Image Source: Saddle Club #1: Horse Crazy by Bonnie Bryant


Angie Tusa said...

I think the most likely thing to happen with that flyer, 1980s or now, is that some concerned adult (or multiple ones!) would be calling to see if this child was really homeless as she claims, and if so trying to find out where she is so she could be brought to some kind of social services organization. It's just a bit too overdramatic!

I remember once my brother and I excitedly setting up a lemonade stand in our front yard as we had seen done so often on TV and in books, and were super disappointed when no one showed up. People don't just randomly walk around neighborhoods like all those works of fiction suggest, or at least they didn't in mine. I don't think a kid would be too successful doing something similar in my neighborhood today either.

Enbrethiliel said...


Stevie delivers the flyers door to door instead of putting them up in different places, so at least the adults who read them know that she isn't really starving. (Or do they? LOL!) But I can imagine her parents being really embarrassed by the wording.

I never sold lemonade as a child, but thanks to a Berenstain Bears book in which Brother and Sister Bear made money selling flowers, a flower stand was my first business venture . . . and my first lesson that "If you build it, they will come" isn't always true. LOL!

But a few kids must have succeeded in real life for lemonade stands to have become such a cliche! I also remember a list in one of Robert Fulghum's books with the entry, "Always buy lemonade from a child." So he must have run into his share of little lemonade salesmen. This is something else I'd like to do an economic study on. ;-)

Sheila said...

Definitely aspirational.

The side dishes in the "complete breakfast" are there for legal reasons. Legally, you can't call cereal a "complete breakfast" because it's too unhealthy, so you picture it with a lot of healthy food as if to suggest that of COURSE you'll eat other things alongside it!

(However, IMO, the pictured breakfast isn't that healthy either. Where are the eggs?)

Standard American breakfast these days is sugary cereal with milk, nothing else. Or a Pop Tart.

I did actually earn money selling cookies door-to-door as a teenager. It was hugely embarrassing and I think people bought things only out of pity, but since I *was* a neighbor and I did have a good sales pitch as to why I wanted the money, they eventually bought everything. And yes, occasionally we've hired kids for odd jobs ... neighborhood kids offering to mow or rake or something. Not often, but it does happen. I think probably back in the 50's or 60's -- when the *authors* were kids -- it was more of a thing. What with zoned neighborhoods and suspicion of unsupervised kids, I wonder if this happens at all anymore. The only kid salesmen you see are girl scouts, and they always have a parent with them!

When I was a kid, though, I imagined everyone else was living this dream life in BSC and books like it. They all had super close friends, neighborhoods where you could ride your bike to the soda stand (what is a soda stand?!), and jobs at ridiculously young ages. I thought it was just because I was homeschooled that I was cut out of all this fun.

Oh, and lemonade stands? I helped with one when I was a nanny. They sold maybe one jugful; very few people walked by. And no one actually wants it. They just want to encourage youthful entrepreneurship. Is that an American thing?

Though recently I read a kid's lemonade stand was shut down because his neighborhood was zoned residential. Ugh.

Enbrethiliel said...


What I wondered was where the bacon was! LOL! But good call on the eggs. I actually watched a whole bunch of 80s commercial compilations and the ones for cereal amused me the most. No matter what the brand, they always made sure to say "part of a complete breakfast"! Too funny.

You're probably right that the authors were writing about their own childhoods rather than their readers' childhoods. It makes me wonder about what the books thirty years from now will be like. What kind of fictional fun would authors who grew up with constant supervision come up with?

There is something about these kids with ordinary yet somehow perfect lives that make the rest of us feel that we're missing out. And yet we really aren't! Newer series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson tap into the same vein, even if it's obvious that the stories are all just fantasy. If we could just go to Hogwarts or to Camp Halfblood, even if we don't get to be great heroes, at least we'd be happier. Or so we tell ourselves.

And yet these books that make us feel sad and left out are the hugely popular ones! At least I can't think of a super successful children's series that didn't have the same effect on its young readers. There are other kinds of well-written books that have niche appeal, but to get the biggest audience, you need to tap that "missing out" vein!

Sheila said...

But don't all kids feel left out of something? There's no way to write something that's not going to leave any kids feeling left out. Well, except maybe Harry Potter when he was still living in that closet.

When I was a kid I LOVED Anastasia Krupnik. She wasn't super cool with a million friends. She was awkward like me. I liked that. But I was still jealous of her because she had cool parents! I was also jealous of people with big families, like Mallory in BSC or the Murphys or the Mitchells in their respective books. Even the Narnia books had a family of four! I was sure I would have so much more fun in a family with four kids. Oh, and E. Nesbitt's Bastables! Who doesn't want to be a Bastable?

But I suppose if I'd had cool parents, zillions of friends, and six siblings, I wouldn't have *needed* so many books.

I think today's supervised kids are going to have to run away from home/be orphaned before they can be the subjects of books. Kids can't be any fun with parents around. That's why fiction is so full of orphans -- in imaginary orphanages or illegally (and incredibly) roaming the streets.

Michael said...

Typical American breakfast, even now for many middle class type folks. Brands have changed but the substance is still the same, in part (I think) due to the FDA and what it emphasizes as healthy.

In my neck of the woods, that ad would get you a lot of work as a 12 year old minus the homeless blurb. With the blurb it would invite a lot of scrutiny as to why a 12 year old was in such a situation.

My general experience has been once you get a few clients and demonstrate a solid work ethic, lack of work will be the least of your problems. And yes, there have been many an adult success story that began this way.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila -- All kids feeling left out of something seems to be what publishers count on! I'd like to hope that the authors themselves aren't so calculating, though!

The characters whom I envied the most were the Murrys from Madeleine L'Engle's Time Quintet. I would have given anything to travel through space-time as they did! The Drews of Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising Sequence were a distant second. If I had found Diane Duane's Young Wizards books as a child, I would have also wanted to be like Nita and Kit.

But as you ask, if I had had cosmic experiences of my own, would I have needed to read those books for a fix?

We could say that the majority of modern children's heroes have effectively run away from home: Harry Potter has to live in a boarding school, Percy Jackson in a summer camp, and Katniss Everdene in first the Capitol and then in District 13. (Only Bella Swan bucks the trend by remaining under her father's roof!) And of course, we still get a fair number of orphans, most notably the Baudelaires.

Michael -- Now that it has been explained to me by Americans (LOL!), I see that the homeless/starving bit was definitely put in as a joke . . . but I also wonder how many girls who read Horse Crazy tried something similarly dramatic!

If you don't mind, may I also ask what you think of the ad in The Baby-sitter's Club? It's at the start of my review of BSC #1.

As for my own experience of trying to get clients, it has been that once you get a few and demonstrate a solid work ethic, they'll start asking themselves, "What more can we get out of her without also paying more?" =P But that really had more to do with a certain skinflint demographic that I unfortunately had to target than with general realities of going into business for oneself.

Paul Stilwell said...

Gotta love those milk jugs with the white glue in them.

Any notion of "a complete breakfast" without fruit is to me completely absurd (juice doesn't count). And coffee is three quarters of a breakfast's completion.

Enbrethiliel said...


As I mentioned to Sheila, I did extensive research on vintage breakfast cereal commercials YouTube, and I remember that Kellogg's Frosted Flakes included a plate of sliced fruit (oranges, from the look of them) in its spread! And there were other commercials in which the "complete breakfast" was served on a table or counter that also had a bowl of fruit on it. But given how easy it would have been to include some sort of fruit, it's kind of odd that it didn't happen more often.

Basically, everyone was doing a variation on the exact same theme. Frosted Flakes replaced the buttered toast with buttered English muffins (Do you know that the English call those American muffins? But the real question is: what do Canadians call them?), while Cinnamon Toast Crunch switched the same with an actual muffin. And of course, Apple Jacks replaced the orange juice with apple juice--though, as far as I remember, there were not actual apples on the table. LOL!

Perhaps I should now watch some vintage oatmeal commercials, to compare and contrast.

Paul Stilwell said...

I'm still not sure how grain-based foods like toast and muffins "complete" cereal, which is, you know, grain-based. LOL. But anyways, we Canadians call them English muffins. I didn't know that abut the English calling them American muffins. Who came up with them first? None of the commercials will have crumpets probably.

Paul Stilwell said...

The thing I found most amusing about the flyer is the void "555" number that has always been featured in television shows and movies. I've always wondered, since we all know it's the famous not-real phone number (though is it today?) how does its appearance add more reality? Which begs the question, is it really so necessary to show a phone number that one is willing to use the everywhere featured "555"?

The other supposedly real-life thing featured typically in movies and television is the flushing of a toilet that makes the shower suddenly run cold. I remember trying it before and it doesn't work. Is it dependent on certain kinds of plumbing or is it an anomaly that somehow made its way into the same ranks as the lucrative lemonade stand?

Angie Tusa said...

Toilet flushing turning shower water cold is a real thing, particularly in older houses. I knew of a house where all you had to do was turn the water on in the faucet in the kitchen to plunge the showeree into a shower blizzard. I'm not exactly sure why, mind you, I just knew you didn't touch a water source while someone else was in the bathroom. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


Stilwell -- I like the "555" quirk. LOL! And I wonder if anyone has a number like that in real life. (Hey, do you remember the scene from Last Action Hero?)

As for the toilet, I know that when the tank in my bathroom isn't finished filling up before you jump in the shower, the heater won't start up. I haven't tried flushing it while the hot water was running, though.

Angie -- Interesting! And if that trick no longer works in newer houses, then we have a lot to thank the plumbers for, aye? LOL!

Paul Stilwell said...

There is a scene, isn't there, having to do with a phone number, and it's on the tip of my brain but I can't remember!

Paul Stilwell said...

And I'm somehow disappointed that the flushing toilet thing is real.

DMS said...

I like that reading this book brought you back to your childhood- or a childhood you imagined others having during the 80s. I have never read this series- but I might like a trip down memory lane (and I love horses).

The ad would have been a big hit when I was growing up and neighbors would have called for sure (plus, I knew most of them). Nowadays- I wouldn't call the number, but I also don't know my neighbors like that.

Interesting to hear your thoughts.

Enbrethiliel said...


It would be interesting, wouldn't it, to compare this ad to those currently up in our neighbourhoods? =)

Banshee said...

In my day, most girls started babysitting for money when you were in fifth or sixth grade. High school and college girls usually had too much to do or a real part-time job, and a lot of junior high kids weren't interested.

But it also depends on people in the neighborhood having lots of kids, and not having incredibly complicated regimens for said kids.

Enbrethiliel said...


That was a good market to be a young baby-sitter in! Perhaps Stoneybrook isn't as far-fetched as I thought. =P