Prince of Ponies by Stacy Gregg

2020 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults Junior Fiction Finalist

Stacy Gregg is NZ’s answer to Michael Morpurgo. Stacy is a captivating storyteller who weaves the plight of animals and humans together with history, adventure and suspense. Prince of Ponies is one of her best.

Prince of Ponies has a duel storyline, one in the present and one in Poland during the Second World War. Mira is a Syrian refugee now living in Berlin. She is bullied at school and her mother appears to be busy working (she is not mentioned much). However, Mira’s life is changed when she meets a spirited pony while walking in the woods. The pony leads her to Zofia, an old woman with an astounding story to tell. Mira agrees to write down Zofia’s story in exchange for riding lessons. As we discover more about Mira and watch her bond with Zofia and her pony Emir grow, we also discover Zofia’s past and her childhood in a Poland ruled by the Nazis. Mira’s skill as a rider grows to which leads to her competing in her first competition.

There is something in this story for all readers – princely ponies, daring escapes, nail-biting competitions, history, and characters who you are routing for. Having read and loved The Princess and the Foal I really liked the cameo of Princess Jana. This was a nice connection between Stacy’s books. I also love the epilogue which connects the story to the history behind it. Stacy always makes this information accessible to her readers.

My only niggle about this book is the cover. Much like Stacy’s other books I really wish the covers were more neutral to encourage boys to read them.

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.

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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.