[Book Review] A Pony for Keeps (Pony Pals, #2) by Jeanne Betancourt

Do you love ponies? Be a Pony Pal!

Anna loves her pony, Acorn. She knows that he is perfect for her. But her parents think Acorn is the reason why she is doing badly in school. If she doesn't get better grades, they will take him away.

Pam and Lulu, her Pony Pals, want to help. They know how much Anna loves her pony. Can the Pony Pals help Anna and Acorn? Will Acorn be a pony for keeps?

Reading some old pony book should
not be this emotional! *sob*
After the relative boredom I felt while reading I Want a Pony, I didn't expect A Pony for Keeps to hit me in the emotions... but it definitely did. Few common themes of children's literature upset me quite as hard as parents who disregard, neglect, or invalidate their children's emotional needs, and that is definitely what's going on in A Pony for Keeps. I'm sure there are plenty of other readers who get through this book without more than a "meh", but I just can't get through these kinds of books without my heart breaking just a bit for the kid in question.

In A Pony for Keeps, Anna wants to finally purchase Acorn, the pony she's been leasing. But her parents have other plans; if she can't pick up her grades, they're going to get rid of Anna's beloved Acorn. Their explanation is that Acorn is obviously just distracting Anna from studying... except that she studies constantly throughout the book, and they still accuse Acorn of being the problem when these hours of studying don't help their daughter before her next report card.

Throughout the novel, it is incredibly obvious that Anna suffers from dyslexia, which reduces her parent's actions from "delivering an emotionally crippling punishment to their daughter because she isn't performing well academically" to "deliver an emotionally crippling punishment to their daughter because she has a learning disability". It makes me wonder how many children this has actually happened to... and then, it makes me sick.

Because it's an elementary-targeted book in a series about three girls and their ponies, it should come as a surprise to no one that things work out for Anna and Acorn... but Anna's parents still come out looking like heartless morons. Not only do they never catch on to their daughter's actual issue--the various other adults in Anna's life have to go out of their way to explain it to them--but they actually go through with their threats to get rid of Acorn, even arranging things so that, if they hadn't changed their minds at the last minute, Anna would never have had a chance to say goodbye to her--let me repeat--beloved pet. More importantly, perhaps, they do not change their minds about this ludicrous punishment until Anna's teacher explains to these absolute imbeciles that they are delivering "a punishment for something that hasn't been [Anna's] fault". Someone has to tell these people that it isn't acceptable to give away someone's pet as punishment for having a goddamn learning disability!?

...my anger aside, children who suffered dyslexia will likely sympathize with Anna's (fairly short) journey to understanding her difficulties, though particularly sensitive children might fall more in line with my complaints. (I'll point out that I am 99% sure I read this book as a child and did not notice how problematic their behavior was... but this might say more about my own parents' style than anything else...) But I definitely don't mean to imply that it's a bad book just because I have an issue with the parent/child power imbalance. Children with dyslexia, learning disabilities, or just a sincere love of ponies will probably get a kick out of the story.

If your son or daughter's a budding young equestrian, Pony Pals is a fine series for them to get into, and A Pony for Keeps is vastly superior to the first book primarily because it had any kind of emotional impact on me; the first was much too monotonous to manage that. I definitely look forward to revisiting other Pony Pal books that I read as a child (and checking out ones that I didn't!). Hopefully the writing and plots will continue to improve.

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