Secret of the Night Ponies

Written by Joan Hiatt Harlow
Review by Juliet Waldron

This story is set in 1965 in thinly settled Newfoundland. It begins with a shipwreck, and the action rarely slows down. Jessie is a teen with a big heart, a Newfoundland dog and a pony. She doesn’t get into the nearest town too often, but when she does, she makes plenty of friends. One of them is an orphaned girl named Clara who is abused by her foster parents. People have ignored this for years, but Jessie cannot. When she finds Clara locked in a barn and covered with bruises, she brings her home. Jessie’s parents agree to conceal Clara until they can find a way to permanently remove her from the bad foster home. The same cruel people have also rounded up ponies, deserted when the outlying islands were abandoned, and are planning to sell them for dog food. Jessie won’t stand for this either, and makes a plan to rescue the ponies.

This book has a strong heroine and intense life and death situations. The pony rescue is based on the true story of the Newfoundland ponies, which were saved from slaughter in the ’60s. There is more plot here than characterization, and many unfamiliar “Newfoundlish” words, which may be off-putting to some young readers, particularly as there is no glossary. Nevertheless, this is an exciting, and, finally, a truly heartwarming tale.