British author. Perhaps best known today for being the mother of the Pullein-Thompson sisters, however she was an excellent pony book author in her own right. She was also an acclaimed novelist of adult books, mainly crime novels.
She was born in Oxford in 1896 and seems to have been quite bohemian for the time, famously 'disapproving of school and approving of books and ponies.' She took up writing to support her family and was already a well-established author when she began writing pony books. These were inspired by her daughters' interest in riding. Unlike many pony authors of the time she did not go down the 'pony point-of-view route' but instead was among the first authors who made the rider the central character of the book, a trend which was to become the most predominant style of the pony book for the next 60 years and counting!
Her books tend to be laced with a large dollop of (at times slightly dark) humour. Of her three daughters Joanna Cannan's books are closest in style to that of Josephine. Best pony book by far IMHO is 'I Wrote A Pony Book' which manages to be both funny and poignant at the same time. Its premise of a girl writing a pony related book was quite innovative for the time and was followed by many other authors, most notably Ruby Ferguson and the Jill books.
She was lucky in that all her books had excellent illustrators, in particular Anne Bullen, who illustrated most of them.
Of her adult crime books at least one contains some horsy content. Murder Included is set against a backdrop of the hunting set. I am not sure about her others however.
Jean Series: Follows the adventures of a girl called (surprise surprise) Jean and her ponies. An iconic series which was the blueprint for many pony books to come. The best of the three is the first, the weakest is the second.
1) A PONY FOR JEAN (BODLEY HEAD 1936) ILLUSTRATED BY ANNE BULLEN Reprinted in hardback by Brockhampton. Reprinted in paperback a couple of times by Knight. EDITIONS PICTURED: First edition, Knight paperback editions. SUMMARY: When her father falls on hard times the family must move to the country. There Jean meets her horsy cousins and falls in love with a neglected pony nicknamed 'The Toastrack.' She nurses him back to health re-names him Cavalier and soon finds out he is a good jumper. She wants to prove to her cousins that he is a good pony by doing well in the jumping in the upcoming show but her mother has forbidden her to jump… PONYMAD RATING: 4 HORSESHOES Read review
2) ANOTHER PONY FOR JEAN (COLLINS 1938) ILLUSTRATED BY ANNE BULLEN Reprinted in hardback by Brockhampton. Reprinted in paperback by Knight. EDITIONS PICTURED: First edition, Knight paperback. SUMMARY: After doing a good deed, Jean is rewarded with another pony. PONYMAD VIEW: Slightly lacklustre sequel. Lots of humour but the plot is paper thin. PONYMAD RATING: 2-3 HORSESHOES
3) MORE PONIES FOR JEAN (COLLINS 1943) ILLUSTRATED BY ANNE BULLEN Reprinted in hardback by Brockhampton. Reprinted in paperback by Knight. EDITIONS PICTURED: First edition, Brockhampton edition. SUMMARY: Jean leaves school and decides to run a riding school with her friend. Will their venture succeed. PONYMAD RATING: 3 HORSESHOES
Collectors Info: The books are fairly hard to find with the third in the series being the hardest. First editions are valuable and rarely seen. Knight paperbacks reprinted the books and these are the easiest copies to get hold of, although still not particularly common.
Cousins Series: Short series of the 'holiday adventure' type. Set in Scotland and London. Fairly light hearted.
1) WE MET OUR COUSINS (COLLINS 1937) ILLUSTRATED BY ANNE BULLEN Reprinted recently by Fidra in paperback. EDITION PICTURED: Fidra paperback. SUMMARY: Two very different sets of cousins (soppy London kids versus tough Scottish ones) learn to get along with the help of their ponies PONYMAD RATING: 3 HORSESHOES
2) LONDON PRIDE (COLLINS 1939) ILLUSTRATED BY ANNE BULLEN Reprinted recently by Fidra in paperback. EDITION PICTURED: Fidra paperback. SUMMARY: Sequel to the above book in which the Scottish cousins visit their London counterparts and they all rescue a pony. PONYMAD RATING: 3 HORSESHOES
Collectors Info: These have recently been reprinted in paperback by Fidra Books so are now easy to get hold of, but the first editions remain elusive.
Other Pony Books:
THEY BOUGHT HER A PONY (COLLINS 1944) ILLUSTRATED BY ROSEMARY ROBERTSON Reprinted as one of three stories in a hardback omnibus edition by Collins called (very imaginatively) THREE GREAT PONY STORIES. EDITIONS PICTURED: First edition, omnibus edition. SUMMARY: When a rich and spoilt girl is given her own pony she soon finds out she isn't the perfect little rider she thinks she is. Very funny story PONYMAD RATING: 4 HORSESHOES
HAMISH THE STORY OF A SHETLAND PONY (PUFFIN PB 1944) ILLUSTRATED BY ANNE BULLEN Reprinted by Cavalier in paperback. EDITIONS PICTURED: Paperback. SUMMARY: Pony-point-of-view book about a little Shetland pony. Aimed at younger readers
I WROTE A PONY BOOK (COLLINS 1950) ILLUSTRATED BY SHEILA ROSE Reprinted in hardback by Brockhampton in 1977. This is the most commonly seen edition. SUMMARY: Part pony book part school story. Slightly down-trodden Alison determines to prove her scornful teacher and disapproving parents, (both of whom think she is a bit of a failure) wrong by writing her own pony book, illustrated by her artistic friend. The only problem is her heroine wins a prize in a gymkhana, and Alison herself has never done so. Can she win in the upcoming gymkhana so she give her novel realism? Partly set in Scotland. PONYMAD BOOKLOVERS RATING: 5 HORSESHOES Read Review
GAZE AT THE MOON (COLLINS 1957) ILLUSTRATED BY SHEILA ROSE Fairly rare in hardback. Reprinted in hardback by Collins. Reprinted in paperback by Arrmada. EDITIONS PICTURED: Collins reprint, paperback. SUMMARY: Traditiona and sometimes humourous pony story about a girl who loves both ponies and art. Dinah does not get on well with her step-mother and sister, but as she develops her art and begins helping out at the local stables, her life improves. PONYMAD BOOKLOVERS RATING: 5 HORSESHOES Read Review
Collectors Info: Hamish is fairly easy to find. The others are fairly rare to different degrees with Gaze at the Moon the hardest to get hold of, especially in hardback. Although paperback copies of this book are easier to find they have not stood well to the test of time and most of them seem to have dropped to bits.
Other Pony Books (Adult Fiction):
MURDER INCLUDED (PENGUIN 1958?) Not 100% sure if there was an earlier edition than the above. There was also a large print edition published by Linford in 2000. EDITION PICTURED: Large print edition. SUMMARY: Slight horse content in this standard whodunnit set against the backdrop of a hunting stables. PONYMAD RATING: 2 HORSESHOES
Collectors Info: Although not common, copies can be found without too much trouble in the UK. The large print edition is probably the easiest to find and may also be available in some libraries.