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The Red Pony

This afternoon I was walking through my classroom when a yellowing copy of The Red Pony laying on a table caught my eye. Seeing the book there brought to mind a rush of memories and images from years ago.

When I was in Ms. Warthan’s fifth grade class, she had one of those rotating upright wire book racks you might see in a used book store. It held a number of cheap and dogged paperback books for pleasure reading.

From this rack, I picked a slim paperback copy of The Red Pony. What appealed to me was the cover art that took up three fourths of the book’s front. It was of a boy leading a horse away from a house and a barn on a hill in the background. The boy looked alone – sad but heroic. Perhaps it appealed to some contrived and romantic notion of myself. I also liked horses as a kid and wanted one, and the book was thin enough to look like an easy read.

I didn’t understand this at the time, but The Red Pony is a short story cycle rather than a novel. It is a collection of four short stories with a common setting and characters. The first story, “The Gift,” has a crushingly final conclusion that lifted me up like an ocean wave and crashed me on to a rocky beach, shaken and confused. I couldn’t image what could come next.

The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck, is one of those books that got me hooked on reading, and Steinbeck became a favorite author. I went on to read and study others of his books in college. Even my graduate thesis was on another short story cycle of Steinbeck’s – The Pastures of Heaven. I couldn’t have imagined as I stood in front of that wire book rack how much time I would spend on Steinbeck’s writing.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see the same yellowing copy of The Red Pony on a table in my classroom today. I am teaching Steinbeck’s “The Gift” to my students this week. And so I feel like I’ve come full circle. I don’t know if this story will get anyone hooked, but it is my hope that all my kids come across something that will allow them to find the joy in reading.

Posted on Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 01:20PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | CommentsPost a Comment

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