Smoky The Cowhorse was written in 1926, and as a child, Wendy Patrick loved it to pieces. “It was an original version with colour illustrations, so visually appealing, as well as the story was about horses! I found the book at my grandparents’ in the bookstand and read it over and over.”
The book was 310 pages, and written by Will James (his real name was a mouthful — Joseph Ernest Nephtali Dufault — and he went on to pen more than 20 books, though none eclipsed the success of Smoky, one of his earliest works). James also did the illustrations; there were 46 of them, many of them full pages.
Patrick was not the first to fall for a horse called Smoky, who told his own story. Smoky’s was a life of wild freedom and later, cruelty, and ultimately, triumph. A cowhorse keeps track of and herds cattle that’s been left to range free. It takes a lot of training, and a gut feel (some horses never get what’s called “cow savvy”).
It’s been said “the first printing of the first edition sold out before the ink was dry,” and the book soon won a prestigious Newberry Medal for best children’s literature.
“Horses were and still are my passion,” says Patrick. She grew up on a farm, with “working horses, as we didn’t have a tractor until I was a little older. We didn’t ride them unless my uncle and his family came for their summer holiday with us. He would put a halter on Peggy, a quiet grey mare, put three to four of us at a time on her back, and walk us up and down the driveway. We had the biggest grins on our faces, so pleased to be ‘riding’ a horse.”
As an adult, Patrick finally did ride for pleasure.
She found horsie books in the Lennoxville Library when she first walked in, at the age of 10 or so. Among other cool adventure books! “I was still in elementary school. Every summer we (my sister and I) would spend a couple of weeks with my aunt and uncle here in Lennoxville. It was a big change for us as we lived on a farm and while we had lots of play time, we also had lots of chores.
“But once the hay season was done, we went on our mini vacation. As we lived in the country, we did not have access to a library. Quite by accident I was introduced to the Lennoxville Library. We had made friends here and so when they went to the library, along we went. I couldn’t believe all of the books — and, they were my favourite series – The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries. I think I walked out with the maximum number of books I was allowed to take, and I managed to read them all.”
(The Hardy Boys teen detective series, by Franklin W. Dixon, is still a fan favorite, and many of them can be found in the Lennoxville Library at C-224; Carolyn Keene’s marvelous Nancy Drew is at C-240, and she’ll soon be back on television on CBS, rebooted as a thirtysomething NY cop.)
Even now, Patrick loves mystery novels. Author Elizabeth George is a long-time favorite: “I think I have read them all. I like mysteries — she has the same characters so not only are you involved in the latest case they are solving, but also the characters have ongoing issues which follow from one book to the next – those are never solved!”
George’s latest is 2015’s A Banquet Of Consequences, again starring her New Scotland Yard detective, the high-born Tommy Lynley. (It’s on our shelves; the earliest George novel in the Lennoxville Library is 1990’s Enquete Dans Le Brouillard, in French Adult Fiction, followed by For The Sake Of Elena [1992, in English Adult Fiction]; with a couple of dozen to follow! This is another series you might want to read in some semblance of order, because spoilers.…)
Patrick is retired from a long-time position at Champlain College Lennoxville, but still doesn’t read full time. A couple of years ago she was offered – and accepted – a seat on the Lennoxville Library’s volunteer board of directors. She began taking minutes, and eventually was voted in as secretary.
Reading is not something she can do willy-nilly, a few pages here and there, a quick 10-minute power read.
“It’s pure escapism. It drove my Mom nuts when I was a child. She could never get my attention if I was reading. I still have that ability to block out everything when I am reading a good book. I even hesitate to pick up a book when I know I have things waiting to be done as once into it….
“So I have a tendency to wait, with great anticipation, until I know I will have several hours to myself.”
When she has those hours, there’s always an adventure awaiting. Mysteries with historical backgrounds are particular favorites. “Take for instance Steve Berry or Clive Cussler – they always begin with a historical incident then build on that to create their mystery in present day.” (Both Cussler and Berry’s mystery/thrillers are in Large Print and in Adult Fiction; Cussler is also in Audio.)
The library’s annual Adopt A Book campaign is an important fundraiser. Patrick adopted author Karin Slaughter’s latest, the psychological thriller Pretty Girls (2015, in Adult Fiction): “It was excellent, more graphic than I expected, but a book I found difficult to put down. And, I went looking to see if the library has more of her books, and they do, so I placed them on my list to read.”
Patrick’s love of history also dates to her childhood. She snuck a forbidden book out of a box given to her parents, the historical novel Desirée, about Napoleon’s mistress (1973, by Annemarie Selinko). “I was all of 12 years old. Credit to my Mom, she didn’t reprimand me when she caught me reading it (although she probably didn’t realize the content).”
Should Patrick ever want to revisit the book as an adult, it’s available via interlibrary loan. Even as a child, however, it’s clear Patrick loved to read. Desirée is a whopping 750 pages long.
— Eleanor Brown, January 15, 2016