I have a cowboy kid. You know, a little guy who loves horses, dreams of living on a cattle ranch, and who believes that the wild untamed West is still out there, waiting for him to put on his boots and spurs so he can saddle up to that special kind of man’s work. I am not sure when Jack fell in love with horses, but I think he may have just been born that way.
My oldest son is a science kid. While he loves the Little Britches stories, he isn’t particularly excited about working with animals, riding horses, or chasing after stubborn cows. Michael wants to build things. Bridges. Buildings. Machines. Michael is an engineer at heart. Their sister, Greta, loves animals in the same way that she loves all creatures. She wants to nurse anything and play teacher to everything. Jack. Jack is my little guy who doesn’t grow properly. He is six years old and still wearing 3T clothes. His tiny size, however, is completely irrelevant to his love of horses, farm life, ranch life, and everything else that Ralph Moody loved about the vanishing West.
When Jack was a toddler, I noticed that the only picture books he cared about were those that had trains or animals in them. Thanks to Michael’s early love of books, I had baskets full of books about rockets, cars, space, planes, etc. Jack was unimpressed. Michael had a Tony Mitton and Ant Parker set of vehicle books. His favorites were Roaring Rockets and Amazing Airplanes. By the time Jack came around, I noticed that those two books had broken spines and torn pages from Michael’s daily naptime love. Tremendous Tractors and Terrific Trains were almost untouched. When Jack discovered those two, however, they instantly became his. In desperate need of a change of pace and something new, I decided to build on the theme and I checked out Lois Lenski’s The Little Train from the library. Jack adored Mr. Small. On a whim, I checked out Cowboy Small and quickly realized that we needed our own copy.
After that, my book buying for Jack became centered on cowboy and western themed stories. As Jack moved out of the cute picture books stage and into books that had a little more story to them, I searched for any and every cowboy themed book I could find. Somehow we discovered Billy and Blaze and were impressed with the classic feel and the tender way in which Billy loves and cares for his horse, Blaze. At that time, I was reading everything by Ralph Moody that I could get my hands on and I was struck by how the Billy and Blaze books would be the perfect entree into the Little Britches books down the road. The relationship between the boy and his horse, the time period in which the books are set, and the themes of the stories remind of my the t.v. show Lassie. A young, responsible, and well mannered boy and his beloved four-legged friend have a series of wholesome adventures that make little boys dream big dreams.
Just slightly older than Ralph Moody, Clarence William Anderson was similarly interested in art and horses. While he started his professional career as an illustrator, he discovered that he enjoyed writing short stories to accompany his life-like pen-and-ink sketches. His most famous books, Billy and Blaze, are living books which aid the reader in the discovery of real things. The characters behave in natural ways, the events unfold conventionally, and the morals are quite traditional. For a very young reader, the books offer a window into a world that is worth dreaming of. The writing is clear, simple, and easy for new readers to access. The books have full-page illustrations on every two-page spread. These are bridge books that help a young reader transition from picture books or early readers into short regular books.
I have been able to find most of the Billy and Blaze books in lovely paperback printing. Blaze Finds Forgotten Roads will be re-released in April of 2018. I have never been able to find, at a reasonable price, Blaze and the Gypsies nor Blaze and the Indian Cave. Here is a list of the books and their publication year:
- Billy and Blaze (1936)
- Blaze and the Gypsies (1937)
- Blaze and the Forest Fire (1938)
- Blaze Finds the Trail (1950)
- Blaze and Thunderbolt (1955)
- Blaze and the Mountain Lion (1959)
- Blaze and the Indian Cave (1964)
- Blaze and the Lost Quarry (1966)
- Blaze and the Gray Spotted Pony (1968)
- Blaze Shows the Way (1969)
- Blaze Finds Forgotten Roads (1970)