Friday, 9 March 2018

The pinkifying of ponies

I'm not a horse person and I didn't read horse books as a child, but I knew many children who did. They often also went riding, and went to the stables to do things like—well, whatever you do in stables: comb horses and shovel poo and wash blankets or whatever.

I also knew people who read ballet books and went to ballet classes.  I was thrown out of ballet after the first week, which didn't seem to happen in the one or two ballet books I read. 

The horse brigade and the ballet brigade were in opposite camps. (I was in neither, but was good at observing.) The ballet brigade wore pink and frilly and the horsey brigade wore mud and brown. The horse books were about going fast and winning things and the ballet books were about being pointy and winning things. Horse people fell and broke their arms and ballet people fell and sprained their ankles. Everyone knew where they stood.

But now—the pink and the ponies seem to have collided. I read a pony book to see, and it was all about magical ponies and had no hint of tack and mucking out and gymkhanas. Is it because not enough children go riding that there is no market for real horse books any more? The horses could have been anything, really. As long as they were pink.

This seems a great shame. Although I never liked horse books I could see the appeal of both them and the ballet books. They told stories about something children knew about. The books were detailed, with that special arcane knowledge crafted into a beguiling story. The reader was included, their interests validated and reinforced. Does that happen in a different kind of book now? I can't think of any, but perhaps I just don't see them. It seems something valuable has gone. I can imagine publishers not wanting to 'exclude' the readers who don't ride/dance or know the terms. But that's taking something away from the children who do. Surely we don't need to democratize stories to such a degree? There is nothing wrong with having and enjoying specialist knowledge; it's not elitist. It's the reward of interest and devotion and hard work. I hope there are still real, unpink pony (and ballet) books.

Anne Rooney
Blog: The Shipwrecked Rhino
Latest book:

Lonely Planet, 2017


Andrew Preston said...

I understand what you're saying. I do feel that, as a kid , my special interests were not well served by the books that I could find. There was nothing at all about stealing pens, and sweets, from Woolworths.Not a mention of of augmenting chemistry sets with saltpetre from local chemists, to manufacture gunpowder, and blowing things up on the beach. I had to borrow my teacher father's science books.

Martha said...

It used to be that you could only buy horse/pony figurines that looked like real horses. (I confess I still have one of mine.) But then came My Little Pony. I'd bet anything that was the first pink pony. Wikipedia says it was launched in 1982 in the States, in 1995 globally. My own experience is that it wasn't really a Thing until the '90s. And where an Entertainment Franchise (to use Wikipedia's words) blazes a trail, books will follow. I'd be sorry to lose the more realistic books, though. In my experience, their audience wasn't limited to girls who had ponies; they were also for all the girls who yearned to have ponies but couldn't, which is a much greater number. I think you've identified a development no one else has noted.

Sheena Wilkinson said...

I actually satirise this pinkifying in my 2013 middle grade novel, Too Many POnies.

Stroppy Author said...

Excellent, Sheena!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Actually, I used to read both pony books AND ballet books(I have that How And Why book, by the way, but also the How and Why Book of horses). I do see your point about pinkifying ponies. I’m sure I would have hated that sort of thing as a child. I lived in a flat in the city as a child, but dreamed of having a horse. And ballet lessons. I did them for a while but I wasn’t very good. Mum took me out.

I wonder if I did my own pinkifying when I started dreaming of unicorns, though? You can’t get more feminine than unicorns! ;-)

Nicola Morgan said...

I was a horsey child and wore brown and mud. A few years ago I wrote the first of what was proposed as a pony series. It didn’t attract the publisher who’d originally asked for it, because, apparently, not enough children would identify with the riding/pony parts. However, they REALLY liked the bits where the ponies FLEW...