Naftali The Storyteller and His Horse, Sus, by Isaac Bashevis Singer
The Most Prized Horse:
✅ Best Naftali The Storyteller And His Horse, Sus, By Isaac Bashevis Singer
Eight fabled delights – Isaac Singer aptly dedicated this book of eight stories to his family–and to all readers young and old, who contemplate the wonder of growing up and facing the riddle of life and love. Thus he begins with the book’s title story. Naftali, to make a long, delicious story short, grew up at the feet of his father Zelig, who often told him of and imp, whose tail tasted like salt. He also grew up reading and loving stories. Reb Zebulin told him that even fictional stories were often true. After hearing stories that sounded completely unbelievable, Reb Zebulin would go to a place where those things had actually happened. “The brain is created by God,” he told Naftali, “and human thoughts and fantasies are also God’s works.”
Are horses too silly and sentimental a subject for serious authors to write about? Isaac Bashevis Singer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1978, answers that question definitively in his short story for children – and adults! – Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus.
Naftali loves two things: stories and his horse, Sus. When his family, friends, and other neigh-sayers insist that he can’t make a life with stories and a horse, Naftali hitches Sus to a wagon, fills the wagon with books, and spends his days traveling, collecting, and sharing tales of the world, which he finds is “full of wonders.”
Profoundly kind and wise, Naftali and Sus’s story is enchanting not only to children, for whom it was written, but to readers of any age. Singer’s storytelling lightly nets the true wonders of adventure and friendship and sings with the symphonic power and imagination that inspired Professor Lars Gyllensten to conclude his speech for the presentation of Singer’s Nobel Prize this way:
“Dear Mr. Singer, master and magician! It is my task and my great pleasure to convey to you the heartiest congratulations of the Swedish Academy and to ask you to receive from the hands of His Majesty the King the Nobel Prize for Literature 1978.”
For horse lovers, though, the even deeper appeal of the story is that this great author, as he draws Naftali and readers through the marvels of life and the rewards of a life well-lived, does not for a moment forget about the dearest prize of them all: the humble horse, now young, now elderly, who made the whole journey possible. I won’t spoil the story’s beautiful ending for you, but as it pirouettes to a close, Singer writes:
“At times, when Naftali came into the stable to visit his beloved Sus, he saw him bowing his head against the horse on his left or his right, and it seemed to Naftali that Sus was listening to stories told him by the other horses or silently telling his own horsy story…”
You’ll find Naftali and Sus in Singer’s volume, Stories for Children, and there is also a lively illustrated version in Naftali the Storyteller and His Horse, Sus: and Other Stories, which is out of print but well worth tracking down. To learn the story behind Singer’s marvelous stories, read NobelPrize.org’s biography of Isaac Bashevis Singer, and don’t miss the info on the Nobel Prize in Literature – who knows, perhaps your horse will carry you there someday!
The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams
✅ Best The Velveteen Rabbit, By Margery Williams
A timeless children’s classic that all ages will still enjoy – Some books manage to win a place in the heart, and remain timeless regardless of what audiences they were originally intended for. “The Velveteen Rabbit” is one such classic. Some of its elements may feel a little dated to modern audiences, but somehow the tale of a toy rabbit becoming “real” still resonates with audiences today. So many of you had a favorite toy as a child, one regarded not as an actual toy but as a real friend who you actively played with… and a story like “The Velveteen Rabbit” brings back memories of those toys and the bond you shared with them.
History and literature are full of stories of animals and people who have helped each other, healed each other, and become their best and fullest selves through acts of courage and compassion they perform for the sake of love.
Many of these stories feature horses. Perhaps that’s because horses have so often been our companions on the battlefield and on the frontier – both those on the Earth and those in our hearts. So perhaps it’s fair and even proper that one of the most beloved and enduring of these stories, Margery William’s children’s tale, The Velveteen Rabbit, has its gentle wisdom spoken by an old horse.
The Velveteen Rabbit himself is a toy bunny who dreams of being real. The old horse, called the Skin Horse, is a toy who became real, and he explains it this way:
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day…”Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.” It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. …Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
You can read The Velveteen Rabbit as an illustrated flip-book at Internet Archive and download the story and illustrations for free at Project Gutenberg. If you’re looking for a printed book, check out the edition featuring William Nicholson’s original illustrations, which have the sweetly-shabby look of worn toys but well-loved toys, and Donna Green’s luminous and lifelike interpretation.
Calico the Wonder Horse, or The Saga of Stewy Stinker, by Virginia Lee Burton
A Tall Tail:
✅ Best Calico the Wonder Horse, or The Saga of Stewy Stinker, by Virginia Lee Burton
Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Calico – One of the all-time great kids books. A “comic book” with wonderful illustrations and colored pages to add interest. A great story which stays with one–Stewy Stinker as the bad guy. How can one forget that? Recommend it for any kid who has a passing fancy for cowboys or horses, or just a good story.
When Stewy Stinker and his Badlands gang rustle the cattle from the people of Cactus County, it’s up to Calico the Wonder Horse, “the smartest, fastest horse in all of Cactus County,” and her cowboy, Hank, to rescue the herd and bring the villains to justice.
Virginia Lee Burton may have written Calico the Wonder Horse, or The Saga of Stewy Stinker for her two sons, but this Western tall tale will hit the bullseye with any young audience. Witty dialogue and descriptions – Calico herself can “turn on quarter and give you fifteen cents change” and has a nose “so keen, she could track a bee through a blizzard” – will delight and captivate readers. The comic book format is easy to follow and inviting, and Burton’s pen-and-ink images are chock-full of detail, making Calico’s adventure as visually addictive as a Wild West Where’s Waldo or a horseback hunt for Richard Scarry’s Goldbug.
Bad guys, good guys, daring deeds, and happy ending: Calico delivers not only the Cactus County cattle, but a story as light-hearted and fun as a rollicking tumbleweed. As fast as greased lightning, you’ll find Calico in a place of honor on your ‘bedtime bookshelf,’ probably right next to Burton’s other beloved classics for children: Caldecott Medal-winning The Little House, Katy and the Big Snow, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.
The only thing that’s more fun than enjoying a great story is enjoying it with others. So pull up a chair, a tack trunk, or a hay bale. Pour yourself and your pony some peppermint tea. And, please, share your thoughts!