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The Reader: Surfer Dude: The Legendary Stallion of Chincoteague

A well-illustrated biography of a well-known horse

       As a young girl, Audrey writes, I was so enamored with the Misty of Chincoteague series that as an adult I named my dog Misty. Marguerite Henry opened up a whole new world to me. I loved how she gave Misty just enough humanizing characteristics to make her relatable while still leaving her a horse.

         So I opened Surfer Dude anticipating the thrill of reading another story about Chincoteague ponies.

         Surfer Dude is not Misty, Sandra writes. It’s a story all its own, of the life cycle of the herd, with the iconic Surfer Dude its central figure.

         A showy sorrel with a platinum mane, white blaze and one blue eye, the wild stallion stood out like a sentinel. From 1992 until 2015, the horse with the Beach Boy look and name gathered a huge fan club of pony fanciers.

         In that admiring group, author Lois Szymanski and illustrator Linda Kantjas are in good standing. Szymanski is a founding member of the Chincoteague Legacy Group and author of a pony-buyer’s primer, Your Chinc­oteague Pony Foal’s First Year. ­Kantjas also illustrated Szymanski’s Wild Colt, another story of the Assateague herd, for young or poetic readers.

         Szymanski tells two stories in only 38 pages. Dominant is Surfer Dude’s 23-year life, focused, in the author’s words, on “the circle of life.” The backstory is the culture of the saltwater cowboys of Chincoteague, the volunteer firefighters who maintain sustainability of the wild herd on a stark barrier island with an annual roundup, the pony penning and auction of foals.

         Helpful appendices illustrate island wildlife and notable ponies.

         Linda Kantjas’ many soft-focus paintings illuminate Szymanski’s words.

         Assateague pony lovers of any age will enjoy this closer look inside the herds we watch from afar. It’s an especially apt book to give a child dealing with loss.