Monday, September 19, 2016

Misty of Chincoteague: A Children’s Classic Defines an Island

In a gift shop
I’d venture to say most adults are familiar with Marguerite Henry’s classic children’s book Misty of Chincoteague. Published in 1947, it became a Newbery Honor Book, and in 1961 a major motion picture. It spawned a series of sequels. For decades, teachers assigned it to their students. It is as ingrained in our American culture as apple pie and ice cream. As an author, I marvel at the prospect of writing such a timeless, resilient book, just 173 pages long.    

At the National Seashore gift shop
Chincoteague is a sleepy little island off the shore of Virginia, protected by the barrier island Assateague. Known primarily for the wild ponies that have lived on Assateague for more than 350 years, Henry’s book brought the town to national and worldwide renown. Visitors flock to the island to see the wild ponies. Each July more than 40,000 people attend the annual Pony Swim. And copies of Misty - and the subsequent books in the series - are available for purchase just about everywhere: gift shops, gas stations, delicatessens, hotels. Everywhere.  

Never have I seen a book so proudly
and prominently displayed.
In a gift shop
Never has a book made such
an impact on a small town.

In a gift shop

In a deli
If you visit Chincoteague today, you will see evidence of Henry’s legacy all over the island. A statue depicting Misty is in the town center. The Beebe family, depicted in the book, owns and operates the Chincoteague Pony Center. During Pony Week, the Chamber of Commerce runs the Misty movie daily in the island’s lone movie theater.

Marguerite Henry was not a native of Chincoteague. She was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1902. On a visit to the island on Pony Penning Day, Henry learned the story of Misty, and wrote the book with illustrator Wesley Dennis. Published by Random House, it became a huge success, and launched her career as a children’s author. She published 59 books throughout her life, and won the Newbery Medal in 1946, 1948, and 1949. Her last book was Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley, a 93-page novel published in September 1996, when she was 94 years old. Marguerite Henry passed away in Rancho Santa Fe, California in 1997.


Lydia said...

I've never read Misty of Chincoteague, but now I want to try it. You made it sound so good!

Marianne Sciucco said...

Thanks for writing Lydia. Did you read Misty yet?