Charley's Horse


Children - Coming of Age
336 Pages
Reviewed on 08/31/2018
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

A native New Yorker, Judith Shaw married an Aussie and raised two children in Indonesia, Singapore, and the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia. She has a deep love of animals and feels an almost psychic connection with dogs, horses, and, on one striking occasion, with a pet python. She was a solitary child. Her companion, caretaker, and best friend was Gamin, a black standard poodle known for hating the garbage man and cornering babysitters in the hall coat closet. Her first horse and the love of her life was a bay Morgan gelding named Tom Thumb. When the family moved back to the States, Tom came too. At nineteen, he was probably the oldest gelding ever to cross the Pacific

When a riding accident ended her love affair with horses, Judith focused on her other lifelong passion: writing. After decades as an editor and journalist, she began to explore fiction. Charley’s Horse is her first novel. Judith lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband Ron, and Tilly, her Jack Russell terrorist. You can read more of her writing at storiesbyjudith.com

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

Charley's Horse is a coming of age novel for children and preteens written by Judith Shaw. Charley’s best friend, Sally, had weekly riding lessons, but Charley, whose world seemed to revolve around horses, had never even seen a horse up close. Her family didn’t have the money to pay for riding lessons; besides, her parents seemed to be wrapped up in their own issues, leaving Charley and her brother, Jeremy, at loose ends night after night. Charley didn’t like worrying about things; she feared that something was seriously wrong with her family. Then it happened. Mom and Dad sat Charley and her brother down and told them that they were getting separated. Dad would be moving out and into an apartment in town, and their grandmother would be moving in to be there for them while their mom was at work. To make matters even worse, Mom and Dad had decided to send Charley and Jeremy off to summer camp for the entire summer. Charley's reaction was to angrily reject the concept as a bribe, but then she saw the pamphlet whose cover showed girls on horseback, girls grooming their horses, others canoeing and one girl kissing her horse’s nose. The caption reading “Come and meet your Summer Horse” proved too much for her to resist, even with all the pain and confusion she felt. Her summer horse -- a horse that would be hers -- for the entire summer. Charley was going to camp after all.

Judith Shaw’s Charley's Horse is a marvel of a tale that will engage anyone who’s ever dreamed about having or even riding a horse, no matter what their age. Charley’s experiences at summer camp make for some grand reading, reading that’s awfully hard to put down. I loved watching as she surmounted all the challenges she faced: the mean girls who quickly seized upon the fact that she had never ridden a horse; the ancient horse, Firefly, her summer horse who seemed to have little interest in her; and the shocking realization that she would have to conquer fear and self-consciousness in even getting into the saddle the first few times around. Following as she slowly learned to ride, to move with the horse, to keep her head up and indicate her desires to the horse is fascinating. Best of all, however, is her growing friendship with the black Morgan horse she calls Cricket, who is in so many ways her real Summer Horse, and with Ethel, the camp’s owner who befriends her and teaches her how to drive a horse. Along the way, Charley comes of age most wonderfully, and it’s a grand sight to behold. If you’ve ever enjoyed a horse or animal story, reading this is a no-brainer. If you never thought you’d be interested in one, try this one anyway. Charley’s Horse is a modern classic that is guaranteed not to disappoint. It’s most highly recommended.

Emily-Jane Hills Orford

Charlene Rittenberg doesn’t really like her name. When her brother, Jeremy, shortened it to Charley, and called her Charley Horse, since she loved horses, the Charley stuck. So did her love of horses. But, when her parents announced that they were separating and that she and Jeremy were being sent away to camp for the entire summer, it didn’t matter that they had found a horse camp for Charley. Even though she had read just about every horse book available and had dozens of horse ornaments, Charley had never been on a horse before. When she reluctantly goes to camp and meets her summer horse, Firefly, her terror reaches an all-time high. It doesn’t help that some of her cabin mates are mean to her. She works hard to overcome her fear, but her hidden angst is the tragedy that’s tearing up her family. And, she had no one to talk to. Even her best friend, Sally, another horse lover, isn’t responding to her letters. Charley feels dreadfully alone, forgotten and hurt.

Judith Shaw’s novel, Charley’s Horse, shines through with a passion for horses (and dogs) as well as a devoted understanding of the mind and emotions of a young girl. The protagonist struggles through her summer adventure, trying to come to terms with her new family situation, her feelings of betrayal and abandonment, and the rocky road of teen girl friendships. All of this, plus the added bonus of a summer camp surrounded by horses. A dream come true? Or a nightmare? This is a powerful story full of good horse knowledge, and the trials young people face when their family disintegrates. You can’t help but love and feel compassion for Charley as she fights her battles with her summer horse, the mean girls in her cabin, and her shattered family.

Liz Konkel

Charley's Horse is a debut children's novel by Judith Shaw. Charley loves everything about horses and spends her time dreaming about the day she'll get to meet one for real. She knew her parents were keeping something from her, but a separation is the last thing she expected. Not only is her dad moving out, but her parents are sending her and her brother off to summer camp. All she wants more than ever to stay home and fix her family. The lure of a horse camp is her chance to live her dreams. However, camp isn't the paradise she imagined. A bully has targeted her for no reason. She doesn't fit in with the girls in her cabin. She finally gets to meet a horse, only to discover she's terrified of riding. As if that wasn't bad enough, her summer horse seems to hate her. When she discovers a black horse in a field separate from the others, everything seems to turn around for the better. Their connection is everything she's been looking for, but their bond doesn't quell her fear of riding, it doesn't make the bully go away, and it doesn't get her parents back together. Maybe she can use it to find the bravery she needs to conquer her fears and make it through the eight weeks of camp.

Judith Shaw delves into childhood with a realistic and grounded story that tackles issues of growing up, bullying, fitting in, divorce, and facing fears. Charley has a fantasy of what meeting her first horse will be like, how they'll bond and become best friends. When it's not anything like what she was expecting, everything seems to fall apart all at once. She has an emotional journey that's easy to connect with and will resonate with readers of all ages. This had me reminiscing about when I was allowed to ride by myself and the bond I had with my childhood horse, and that feeling of accomplishment that comes from first learning. Shaw evokes all the emotions and nostalgia of growing up and finding yourself. It's a story that stays with you, full of life lessons that center around learning to ride. The characters are realistic and complex, with not everybody being exactly what they seem to be. There's a strong attachment to Charley, so it's easy to get angry and anxious when she gets upset, and to be pulled along in her emotional journey. Charley's Horse is a stunning debut novel with a coming of age journey about family, friendship, and the unique bond one can have with horses.

Kristen Van Kampen (Teen Reviewer)

Charley's Horse by Judith Shaw is an outstanding story of friendship, fear, bravery and horses. The story follows a girl named Charley, who had always dreamed of riding a horse, but when she goes to a horse riding summer camp, it isn't at all what she expected. One of her cabin mates, Jane, is mean to her, and her summer horse, Firefly, doesn't seem to like her, not to mention the idea of riding scares her. She starts to hate the camp. But then she meets a beautiful horse who she calls Cricket, and she finds happiness in the camp once more, especially when she learns how to drive a horse and carriage. But then her dad decides driving is too dangerous, and that she shouldn't do it. Will Charley be able to convince him otherwise?

I really, really enjoyed reading Charley's Horse by Judith Shaw. The book is very relatable because the characters deal with many realistic problems, like bullies, and going to a summer camp and not knowing anyone. The story is filled with dramatic and suspenseful scenes that are very exciting, and sure to get the reader's heart racing. There are also some scenes that the reader will find funny. I was hooked by the first page, and I did not want to stop reading. The plot is fast paced and thrilling. The characters are very likable and inspiring, because they are brave and smart. The characters are also well developed and realistic. The story is very well written, and I liked that it was Charley who was narrating. I would definitely recommend this book to all readers.

Caitlin Lyle Farley

Charley adores horses, even though she’s never even seen a real-life horse. Going to a summer camp where she’ll learn to ride and spend every day with horses would be a dream come true ... if only her parents weren’t planning to sort out the kinks of their separation while she and her brother are away at camp. Charley arrives at camp reluctant and uncertain. One of the girls she shares a cabin with seems determined to make her life miserable, and the horse that’s been assigned to her doesn’t seem to like her at all. After a disastrous first lesson, Charley runs off and stumbles across a small black horse in a field all by himself. This horse is actually happy to see her, and the two become friends, but why is he alone and who owns this horse?

Judith Shaw not only captures the almost magical bond that forms between horse and human, but also highlights the practicality and logic that weaves through it. I thought Charley’s disillusionment and learning process displayed this very nicely. It was also interesting to read an equestrian fiction book that introduces carriage driving, as this discipline is often ignored in the genre. The therapeutic relationship Charley develops with the strange black horse has an unexpected ripple effect that ultimately helps both Charley and the horse’s owner overcome their individual fears. Charley’s Horse is a beautiful coming of age story that will delight all horse lovers, but also speaks of the anger and uncertainty so many children experience when faced with their parents' divorce.