A few years ago, my parents gave me some children’s books they had been keeping at their house. One of them was The Horse Who Lived Upstairs, by Phyllis McGinley, illustrated by Helen Stone. I had forgotten all about this wonderful book. Our own house was full of children’s books, most of them modern, and I was thrilled to be able to read some of these classics to my kids.
The Horse Who Lived Upstairs is the kind of story you don’t see anymore. Times are different. Styles have changed, illustrations are updated, and the language is, well…modern. It’s only natural that older children’s books like these have made way for newer ones. But it’s always nice to step back in time and enjoy some memories!
This classic starts out simply: “There was once a horse named Joey who was discontented.” Joey is a city horse. He pulls a fruit and vegetable cart in New York for Mr. Polaski. But Joey longs for a life on a farm, with a big barn and fresh air and a green meadow where he can kick up his heels. Instead, he lives on the fourth floor of a big brick building.
But Mr. Polaski is nice to him. He gives Joey a blanket in the winter and a hat in the summer. He gets sugar cubes from the lady customers, and he has a comfortable stall, plenty to eat, and a nice window to look out of at the end of a nice eight-hour day. Still, Joey is…discontented.
So what happens when Mr. Polaski upgrades to a motor truck and no longer needs Joey? “You will like it on the farm where I am going to send you,” he tells Joey. Off he goes to the country, but farm life is not what Joey thought it would be. It’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer and he works very hard, much harder than in the city, pulling a heavy plow through the dirt from sunrise to sundown. The farm children climb on him and tease him. There are no lady customers giving him sugar cubes. Once more, Joey is discontented.
Phyllis McGinley creates a happy solution to Joey’s problem. Mr. Polaski returns to the farm. “I have come for Joey,” he says. “I cannot get any more tires for my truck, so I think I will sell fruit and vegetables from my wagon again.” What a great way to save Joey! This is the kind of simple solution a young child can understand: no more tires, so let’s go back to the horse! I love how often the author uses the word “discontented” – I wouldn’t expect that word to be in a children’s book, but there it is. And in the book, a terrific lesson about how to be happy with what you have!
Our county library doesn’t have The Horse Who Lived Upstairs on its shelves, but you can still get this great book on Amazon!
Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978)
Phyllis McGinley was an American poet and author of children’s books. She often wrote about suburban life in humorous, light verse. Her work appeared in Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, The New Yorker, The Saturday Review and The Atlantic. She was elected to the National Academy of Arts and Letters in 1955. In 1961, McGinley won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades with Seventy New Poems (1960) and she was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1965.
McGinley was born in 1905. Her mother was a pianist and her father was a land speculator. The family moved a great deal during her early childhood and McGinley longed for a stable home. Her father died in 1917 and soon after, the family settled in Utah. She spent the rest of her childhood there and attended the University of Southern California and studied musical theater at the University of Utah.
After college, McGinley worked in New York as a copywriter, teacher and staff writer for Town and Country. She met her husband, Charles Hayden, in 1934. They married in 1937 and moved to Larchmont, NY. She loved her domestic, suburban life, which was a source of much of her writing and her career spanned over three decades. McGinley died in New York in 1978.
McGinley’s other books of poetry include Confessions of a Reluctant Optimist (Hallmark Editions, 1973); Love Letters (1954); Stones from a Glass House (1946); A Pocketful of Wry (1940); One More Manhattan (1937); and On the Contrary (1934). In addition to poetry, McGinley also wrote the lyrics for the 1948 musical revue Small Wonder.
In addition to The Horse Who Lived Upstairs, McGinley wrote a number of children’s books, including All Around the Town (1948), The Most Wonderful Doll in the World (1950), Blunderbus (1951), The Make-Believe Twins (1953), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1957), Boys Are Awful (1962) and How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas (1963).
Thank you to the following sources for information about Phyllis McGinley. Check out these links for more information about McGinley and her work:
Do you have a favorite classic children’s book? Why is it special to you? What makes it different from modern children’s books?
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