The Thunderbolt Pony by Stacy Gregg

Imagine that a huge earthquake strikes, destroying your home and leaving your mother badly injured.  You could take the easy (and safe) way out, joining your mother on the rescue helicopter to the hospital.  This would leave your beloved cat, dog and pony to fend for themselves for who knows how long.  You decide that you will do anything to get your animal family to safety, which means a treacherous journey over mountainous terrain and rugged coastline to a ship that will take you to safety.  Not only do you have to cope with aftershocks and a landscape that is forever changing, you also have to deal with the OCD that has taken over your life.  This is what faces Evie in Stacy Gregg’s powerful, emotional new story, The Thunderbolt Pony.


When a devastating earthquake hits Evie’s hometown of Parnassus on New Zealand’s South Island, she and the rest of the town are forced to evacuate. Evie’s injured mum is one of the first to be rescued by helicopter and Evie will be next. But when realises that she will be forced to leave her beloved pony, Gus, her dog, Jock, and her cat Moxy behind, she is determined to find another way. Before the rescue helicopter returns, Evie flees with Gus, Jock and Moxy in a race against time across difficult terrain to reach the port of Kaikoura, where she has heard that people will be evacuated by ship in three days’ time. Surely there will be space for her, Gus, Jock and Moxy there?

But the journey is harder than Evie could ever have imagined, and with aftershocks constantly shaking, Evie will have to draw on all her bravery, strength, and resilience to bring her and her animals to safety . . . and hope that they reach the boat in time.

I feel that The Thunderbolt Pony is Stacy Gregg’s best story yet.  It is a heart-racing story about a girl who will do anything to save the animals that have become her family.  It is a very emotional story that so many readers will relate to.  You can’t help putting yourself in Evie’s shoes and thinking ‘what would I do if I was told to leave my family behind?’ Although the cover, with the flowery design, gives you the impression this is a story for girls it is in fact a story for everyone.  Girls and boys alike will be absolutely gripped by the story and, like me, will hungrily read it to find out how it ends.  It would be a fantastic read aloud, especially for Years 5-8, as it will keep everyone engaged.

As someone who has lived with constant earthquakes this was an especially emotional story for me.  Stacy Gregg has perfectly captured the feeling of constantly being on edge and not knowing whether the next shake will be a big one or a little one.  Evie knows when there is another shake coming by the way that her animals react (ears back and growling or howling).  Stacy really gives you an insight in to how animals are affected with earthquakes as it’s not always something you think about.  Even the little details like the cows still needing to be milked, even though there was no power to make the pumps work.  When they do get the cows milked using the back-up generator they end of having to pump the milk through the irrigation system because the milk tankers can’t get through on the roads.

Evie is a fascinating character who has a lot to deal with in the story, but she overcomes any obstacles that come her way.  Not only does she lose her home and see her badly injured mother fly off in a helicopter, she also has OCD which causes her to go through different rituals to protect those she loves.  Her OCD was triggered after her father became sick with cancer.  It started with her double-closing doors and got worse after she blamed herself for her father’s death.  Dealing with OCD mustn’t be easy at the best of times, but throw in a huge earthquake and a trek across the mountains and it’s a whole lot to deal with.  Overcoming her condition is a huge part of the story.

Whether you are a pony person, a dog person or a cat person there is a character in this book to please you.  Gus (the pony), Moxy (the cat) and Jock (the dog) are Evie’s family and they are fiercely loyal right to the end.  I loved each of them as much as Evie and I hoped that they would all make it to the end.  There sure are enough incidents in the story that would make you think they might not all make it.

The ending of the story is absolutely perfect and made me want to go right back to the start and read it again.  I would put The Thunderbolt Pony alongside Michael Morpurgo’s stories as Stacy is a fantastic storyteller who tugs at your heart-strings. Whether you are a long-time fan of Stacy Gregg’s books or have never read one of her books you absolutely must read The Thunderbolt Pony.



2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults: Interview with Desna Wallace


Desna Wallace-smlDesna Wallace lived through the Canterbury Earthquakes, and it is no surprise that children from all over NZ voted her book Canterbury Quake, as one of their finalists in the Children’s Choice list. The book is part of Scholastic NZ’s ‘My New Zealand Story’ list, a series of fiction titles featuring notable NZ events. Desna Wallace is a school librarian in Christchurch who is passionate about children’s books. She has had a number of stories published in the School Journal, but Canterbury Quake is her first published novel. We wanted to know how it all came about.

  • As an author, you must have a lot of ideas floating around. How did you decide to write this book in particular?

A friend kept telling me that I needed to write about Christchurch’s devastating earthquakes. At first I kept saying no but eventually one day while driving home from work, the character of Maddy popped into my head and by the time I got home, her whole family were in there too. It was a bit crowded in there so I just began writing and kept on writing. I felt that Maddy’s story would be best told in diary format so that readers could experience the daily life of a family living through a national disaster.  Even though I lived through the earthquakes and life inside a broken city, I still had to do a heap of research to make sure everything was accurate. It needed to be exactly right as it is the story of one of New Zealand’s worst ever disasters. And I agree that it was a story that needed to be told and I feel so privileged that my Maddy, was the one to do the telling. I am so glad my friend had faith in me to give it a go.

  • Tell us a bit about the journey from manuscript to published work. What was the biggest challenge you faced in publishing this book?

I was incredibly lucky with my book being published. I had written stories, poems and plays for the School Journal and even had a Ready-to-Read book published but in terms of writing a novel I was completely inexperienced.  I knew how it felt to be in the quakes, what it felt like to be scared and because I worked with children, I knew how they felt too so I guess my story was very real. I think this is why it was accepted; I was writing from true experience.

When it was accepted, everything happened very quickly which was a bit scary as I didn’t really know what I should be doing. I had deadlines to keep to and I was working my day jobs too, so there was a bit of pressure to do everything. I had kept my writing a secret until I knew it was going to be published, so that was a bit hard too. Then when it was accepted, I wanted to tell the whole world!


  1. How did you tailor this book to the age-group it reaches?

This was the easiest thing to do. I knew I wanted a diary format and as I worked very closely with a group of ten and 11 year olds, I knew this was the group I wanted to write for. It was the age group of children I felt would understand Maddy best. Maddy was very real to me and I hoped that she would be real to children in this age group. Scholastic’s My New Zealand story format is very clear so I just followed their advice.

  1. Who have you dedicated this book to, and why?

I dedicated the book to my son, Calvin. After a divorce I raised him on my own from just a baby so it has always been just the two of us. He is my best friend and the most important person in my life, and I felt so proud to dedicate my book to him.

  1. Can you recommend any books for children/young adults who love this book?

I would read any of the ‘My New Zealand Story’ books. There are so many important events in New Zealand’s history and reading the diaries is such a cool way to get to know about our past.

  1. What is your favourite thing to do when you aren’t reading or writing, and why?

I love scrapbooking, and gardening. Both of these hobbies are relaxing and rewarding. I love the finished page with photos and embellishments.  However, I really don’t like mowing my lawns. In fact I hate it! But I do like the way the lawns look after a cut and I love the smell of the grass after the lawn has been mowed. I have two cats and I love spending time with them in the garden. One of my cats (who is actually Dusty in my novel) loves climbing all over my keyboard when I type and in fact is doing it right now which makes typing very hard. It is a wonder I get anything finished.



Desna was the Christchurch Library Kids’ blogs star author in February 2014: Scholastic NZ’s feature about Desna:

For a review of My New Zealand Story: Canterbury Quake, check out the Booksellers NZ blog here:

Friday’s feature was 1914: Riding into War, by Susan Brocker, both of whom were featured on Booknotes Unbound,  Tomorrow’s feature will be another junior fiction title, The Island of Lost Horses, by Stacy Gregg,  which will be on Booksellers NZ’s blog here: