Here’s a wonderful book written by our good friend Jan Carr. Not exactly a mouse in the barn … but if you know any girls that love to dance it’s a winner!!
A great book to read out loud.
Buy it at your local bookshop or online here.
Keep on writing Jan and we’ll keep on reading!
Here’s a well deserved review and a bit of the story;
All the tension and beauty of the ballet are magnified in this melodramatic mouse tale. Little Tendu (that’s “Stretch” for us English speakers) scampers gracefully through all areas of a beautiful old-fashioned ballet theater as he flees a predatory cat, broom-wielding custodian, and gang of ruthless rats until he finds the perfect home: the lamb’s-wool-lined toe of a pink-satin pointe shoe. In this new picture book from Carr (Greedy Apostrophe, 2007), the reader gets a mouse’s-eye view of the theater’s murky back passages, costume workshop, and the chandelier-lit theater itself, with its velvet seats and ornate plasterwork. Like a character in a classic ballet, our adventurous rodent hero experiences rapture, terror, and longing before finding a safe haven—and a new friend—in a dancer’s quiet dressing room. Bell’s digitally colored pencil illustrations are full of soft hues, rounded sketchy lines, and lots of chintzy ribbons and roses, which give the story a classic, nostalgic look. Hand this to aspiring ballerinas who can’t get enough of the ballet world. Grades K-2. –Paula Willey
Alec Ramsay opened his eyes and stared into the darkness of his bedroom. He could not sleep. The darkness was familiar enough, but not the complete silence that lay over everything.
Long moments passed and he could hear the stillness. It was more than the hush, the quiet of late night. It was more than the complete absence of sound. It was a vibrant, living silence and he listened to it as one would to the soft rustle of leaves in the stir of air. He listened to it while his eyes opened again, searching the darkness—for what?
Suddenly he swung out of bed and went to the open east window. If he couldn’t sleep, the thing to do was to get up and find out what was the matter. He put his head out the window, listening to the stillness. If he wasn’t mistaken, it meant trouble. Something was going to break fast. It was the quiet before the storm, the quiet that preceded an onslaught of terrible force. Where would it come from? What would it be?
Just beyond the stallion barn were the separate paddocks and in one he saw Napoleon’s white, ghostlike figure. The old gelding was standing still, probably asleep. Somewhere in the adjacent paddock was the Black.
The boy’s keen eyes searched the darkness for some sign of movement. Finally they found the tall stallion, his head up and the pricked ears showing clearly against the backdrop of stars. The Black did not move. The night remained still, too still.
Alec’s gaze swept across the fields to where the mares and suckling foals were grazing. He made out their dark movements but heard nothing except the silence, so heavy with its dreadful portent. If the danger was not to come from the Black would the mares be the ones to set it off?
Turning from the window, Alec went to the closet and pulled on a pair of coveralls over his pajamas. The only thing to do was to go out and look things over. Some of the new broodmares didn’t get along very well together. Also, old Miz Liz was due to foal sometime soon and it just might be tonight. She’d bear watching. If Snappy, the foaling man, was on the job, Alec wouldn’t have to worry about her.
Softly Alec tiptoed to the door, carrying his boots so as not to wake up his parents. Then he remembered that he would need his house key to get back in, and retraced his steps to the closet. The key should be in his brown suit. The last time he’d used it was two weeks ago when he’d seen Henry off on the train for Pimlico racetrack. He missed having his old partner and trainer around the farm.
He found the key and something else which he had completely forgotten about—a registered letter that he’d picked up at the local post office after leaving Henry. Concerned and angered at his forgetfulness, he went to a small desk and switched on the lamp. The letter was from the insurance company. Opening it he found that as of three days ago, when final payment on the fire insurance policy had been due, all the barns and other buildings of Hopeful Farm were unprotected in case of loss or damage! Furious with himself, Alec shoved the letter into his pocket. It was inexcusable that he should have forgotten to give the premium notice to his father, allowing the policy to lapse.
He left his bedroom and went quietly down the hall, stopping only at his father’s business office. There he left the letter on the big desk, knowing that he’d have a lot of explaining to do later in the morning.
Outside the house he waited a moment until his eyes became accustomed to the darkness. Again he heard the stillness and felt its warning. This was very real. This was not his imagination playing tricks with him.
Having the lapsed insurance policy heavy on his mind, he thought back to the warning he had given Snappy about smoking in the broodmare barn. Twice during the past week he’d had to speak sharply to the foaling man about it. More apprehensive than ever, Alec now started running down the road while behind him the Black snorted, breaking the deathly quiet of the night.
Going into the dimly lit broodmare barn, Alec breathed deeply the odors he loved—the hay, ammonia and feed. He smelled no tobacco smoke. He walked down the long corridor of empty box stalls, going toward the far end of the barn where he’d find Miz Liz all by herself in the biggest stall of all awaiting the birth of her colt or filly. It wouldn’t be tonight, Alec decided, or Snappy would have had the place more brightly lit.
At the large foaling stall, Alec peeked over the half-door. Miz Liz stood beneath a very small overhead bulb, looking fat and tired, with her head drooped.
“Hello, old mare,” Alec said softly, going into the stall. There was only a slight twitching of Miz Liz’s long ears to disclose she’d heard him.
Alec squinted, deepening the white creases in skin as tanned as old saddle leather, while he examined the mare. He looked at her longer than was necessary, remembering Henry’s description of her going to the post as a three-year-old, all sleek and shiny and fired up, so long ago. Running his hand over the mare’s sagging back, Alec left the stall.
Now he thought he knew the ominous portent of the night’s stillness. Miz Liz was going to foal very soon and that spelled trouble. Where was Snappy?
Alec opened the door of the small room beside the foaling stall. There were a chair and a cot, both empty. The foaling equipment was set out with the oxygen tank ready for use if necessary. It was Snappy’s job to be here now, watching Miz Liz. It could happen any moment.
Leaving the room, Alec stood in the corridor. Suddenly he heard the faint sound of music. He looked up at the ceiling, certain that Snappy was in Henry’s vacant apartment, where he had no right to be at any time, much less tonight. With a bound Alec climbed the stairs, taking two at a jump. Reaching the apartment door, he flung it open without knocking and there was Snappy sitting in Henry’s big living-room chair, his feet on the center table and a pipe in his mouth. Mixed with the pleasant aroma of burning tobacco was the hickorywood smell of smoked bacon frying on the kitchen stove!
Startled by the opening of the door, Snappy looked up and then quickly removed his long legs from the table.
Alec said, “You’re sure making yourself at home while Henry’s away.”
The man mumbled something beneath his breath and then said, “I figured he wouldn’t mind.”
“You know he minds. It’s his home and he likes to keep it private, the same as you would. He’s told you that before.”
The man banged his pipe bowl against a white saucer, knocking out the top ashes; then he relit the tobacco.
Alec went on. “Just as we’ve warned you before about smoking in the barn.”
“This is Henry’s apartment,” the man said curtly, “not the barn.”
“It’s the same thing, and Henry doesn’t smoke.”
“You’re not tellin’ me nothin’. He’s too old to have any bad habits. He ain’t worth much any more, Henry ain’t. Anybody can see that.”
For Paula Turner, who first read this book as a young girl, and whose dream came true.
HOPEFUL FARM 1
The following sports column written by Jim Neville appeared in newspapers throughout the United States on November 14.
This is an obituary. There are two reasons why you read it here rather than in the special section which this newspaper devotes to the deceased. Number one, my subject is a horse. Number two, he isn’t dead yet.
But for me and the millions of others whose sole contact with our racing thoroughbreds is at the track he’s as good as dead. For once a racehorse leaves us to spend the rest of his life in retirement at a stock farm he’s gone forever as far as we’re concerned. Certainly we think of him again whenever his sons and daughters appear on the track for the first time. But his colts and fillies are distinct individuals in themselves and we look upon them as such. Never do we say with any degree of honesty, “Here he is again!”
So it was with sincere sympathy and sadness that we watched Satan step onto the Belmont Park track yesterday for his last look around before being shipped home to Hopeful Farm in permanent retirement.
Satan, sired by the Black, had a racing career that was much too short for one who had so much speed yet to give. He was unbeaten at two, three and four years of age, winning some of our greatest classics. Last season he lost only one race, the San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita Park, California, in December. He ran that race, we learned later, with a stone pounded deep inside his right forefoot. Yet he wouldn’t quit. Although he was running on only three legs it took a photo finish for Night Wind to beat him to the wire in race record time!
X-ray photographs taken after the race disclosed a fractured sesamoid, one of the small bones in the ankle. The injured leg was put in a cast and Satan was shipped home. We were sure that he had reached the end of his racing career. But during the spring encouraging reports reached us. The injured leg had healed and Henry Dailey was putting Satan back in training. By summer the burly black horse was stabled at Belmont Park, and during his works he looked as powerful as we all remembered him. But Henry Dailey wasn’t satisfied. He took Satan along slowly, never asking too much of him, never quite ready to race him. Only last month did Henry step up Satan’s works. And then the great horse went sore again in the injured leg. Last week it was decided that to prevent further injury Satan would be retired permanently.
Yesterday, at the insistence of the track management, Satan took his last look around Belmont Park—the scene of so many of his brilliant wins. And for the thousands who packed the stands, it was a sad but thrilling moment when he came out of the paddock gate between the seventh and eighth races.
The weight of a rider might have aggravated his injury at this time, so he was led out by Henry Dailey, riding Hopeful Farm’s gray stable pony, Napoleon. As Satan pranced there was no evidence of the leg injury that had brought his racing days to an end. He stepped lightly and a little faster at the crowd’s first and most thunderous ovation. He looked very beautiful and very gay with black and white ribbons braided into his mane. He was the picture of health and energy. That he could look as he did and yet be able to race no more accounted for the wealth of feeling which moved so deeply all who watched him.
Night hung black and heavy about the old barn. An iron gate creaked a short distance away and a few minutes later the short figure of a man slid alongside the barn. As he moved cautiously forward his fat, gloved hand felt the wood. The man stopped as he neared the door and his hand dug into his right coat pocket. Fumbling, he searched for something. Not finding it, he uttered an oath and reached awkwardly across to his left-hand pocket. He pulled the empty sleeve from the pocket and reached inside, withdrawing a long hypodermic needle. His dark-skinned face creased into folds of fatty tissue as he smiled. Moving forward once again, he did not bother to replace the empty coat sleeve and it hung limply at his side in the still air.
The prowler reached the door. Carefully he opened it and slid inside. His eyes, already accustomed to the darkness, made out the stalls on the other side of the barn. As he moved toward them, his thumb slipped to the back of the hypodermic needle.
The hard ring of a horse’s hoofs against the floor came from one of the stalls. Then a long and slender neck that arched to a small, savagely beautiful head peered over the door. Thin-skinned nostrils quivered as black ears pitched forward. The prowler, halfway to the stall door, had stopped. The horse shook his long black mane and a powerful foreleg struck the door.
A board creaked as the man moved closer. Baring his teeth, the horse whistled the shrill, loud scream of a wild stallion. As the whistle resounded through the barn, the prowler moved forward. He would have to work fast. Mincing steps carried his round body to the stall door with amazing speed. He opened it, but fell back as the black stallion struck at him.
Gripping the hypodermic firmly, the prowler advanced again, more cautiously this time. He stopped and his fat face twitched nervously. The giant horse rose on his hind legs, mouth open and teeth bared. As he came down, the man lunged at him, but the horse’s foreleg caught him in the groin. The attacker turned gray beneath his bronze skin. Staggering back, he attempted to close the stall door behind him. The stallion, halfway through the door, rose again on his hind legs as the man stumbled and fell to the floor. Thrashing hoofs pawed the air above him. The hypodermic dropped from his hand as the giant form began to descend. The man rolled fast, avoiding the stallion’s hoofs by inches. Climbing to his feet, he ran frantically for the barn door.
Outside, he heard voices coming from the direction of the gate and, turning, stumbled off into the night, the empty coat sleeve waving slightly at his side.
Here’s the next chapter from your favorite book … is this it?
WANTED: Reliable man for stable on race-horse farm. Must have professional experience handling and riding young horses. Must be of good character. Must provide references. Good wages with furnished apartment and fringe benefits. Write Hopeful Farm, Box 37, Millville, N.Y.
The advertisement had not been very successful. Alec had hired several men for the job but none had been reliable. Good help was hard to get and even more difficult to keep.
Hopeful Farm was an incorporated business with his parents and Henry Dailey, the trainer, as the principal stockholders. Officially, his own position was that of stable rider, since one could not own and ride a race horse. However, while his parents lived on the farm and his father was responsible for the hiring of local help for maintenance work, Alec was in charge of finding the professional horseman to break and school the two-year-olds. He couldn’t handle the colts himself, for he and Henry Dailey had begun a long summer of racing their great champion, the Black Stallion, in New York City. But occasionally Alec got a few days off and returned home, helping his father supervise the tremendous amount of work involved in running the farm.
Frustrated and impatient, Alec went to the window that overlooked the separate paddocks where the two-year-olds were grazing and playing on the best grass that could be grown. Black Sand was among them and clearly enjoying his freedom. If he could not get the man he needed, Alec decided, it would be far better to turn out the young stock until he and Henry had time to handle it.
Alec watched the horses. Some of them were unsteady on their legs, trying to find their balance, but they were all of a dazzling and powerful beauty. Their long, thick manes and fine coats—black, bay, chestnut and gray—had the gleam of wild silk in the early morning sun. Their deep shoulders and chests and muscular, arched necks breathed forth inexhaustible strength, endurance and spirit. They would be horses to reckon with on the race track, he knew. The future of Hopeful Farm rested on their young backs.
Beyond, in an adjacent field, grazed the heavy but loving mares with suckling foals at their sides. They, too, would help determine the future of Hopeful Farm.