Skip to main content


December 29, 2010

Sally Gunning: My Favorite Book Received and Given

Posted by Anonymous

SallyGunning.jpgThis afternoon, Sally Gunning --- the critically acclaimed author of several historical novels, including the 2010 release THE REBELLION OF JANE CLARK --- remembers the unforeseen gift that gave her a sense of belonging.

Every December, between the ages of six and 16, I sat down with my red Magic Marker and wrote in large block letters on the top of my Christmas list a single word: HORSE. When I was quite small, my parents made the huge mistake of taking me for a pony ride at a local farm. Next came a few riding lessons, but no doubt my parents foresaw the slippery slope ahead; when the price of the lessons increased, my parents informed me they could no longer afford to pay for them. To me, the solution was simple --- if I owned my own horse, we wouldn’t have to pay to use someone else’s, but my parents’ financial acumen just wasn’t as advanced as mine.

Looking back, it’s easy enough to see that there was always little --- read no --- chance of Santa ever cramming a horse down our chimney, but I felt I was getting close the year I turned 11, when Norman Thelwell’s unassuming little book, A LEG AT EACH CORNER, appeared under the tree. The first chapter was titled “How to Get a Pony,” and there it was in black and white and tongue-in-cheek: Everything I needed to know to make my dream come true. Subsequent chapters gave advice on learning to ride, grooming, schooling and health; the illustrations showed a small child trying to catch a wild pony with a butterfly net, or saddle a dog, or pole-vault into the saddle of a creature that looked more like the shaggy dog than a pony. I caught on soon enough that this wasn’t the how-to book I’d hoped for --- say, the kind that might precede my being led into the garage to find a horse hidden behind the Chevy --- but as I opened the book and saw that I got the jokes in the comic sketches of the beribboned ponies and hard-hatted children of the horse world, I felt, for the first time, that I belonged to that world, too.

Many Christmases later, it finally sank in that I wasn’t ever going to catch a whiff of horse amongst the pine needles, but a few more Christmases and it no longer mattered; I had moved on to other things. A number of years ago, however, I discovered I had another horse nut on my hands in a beloved 10-year-old niece, and I hastened out in search of a copy of A LEG AT EACH CORNER for her. Incomprehensibly, it had been allowed to fall out of print, and the used copy I managed to track down cost me almost as much as a small horse, but my niece received the book with something very close to my old joy. She got the jokes. Later, she even got the horse. Today, she is a bona fide citizen of the horse world, and I’m only the occasional tourist there. But A LEG AT EACH CORNER still sits on my overflowing bookshelves, and every time I catch sight of it I smile, remembering those days when I only needed to step through those pages to belong, too.

Tomorrow, Ann Pearlman muses on an unusual gift from her grandfather that’s helped her on her own march through life.