Born 13 April 1902, Milwaukee, Wisconsin; died 26 November 1997, Rancho Santa Fe, California
Daughter of Louis and Anna Kaurup Breithaupt; married Sidney C. Henry, circa 1924
Daughter of a printer, Marguerite Henry was set up as a kitchen-corner writer at age ten and published her first sketch the next year. She took a degree in journalism at Milwaukee State Teachers College. Her husband's interest in animals may have encouraged Henry to develop, years later, her strongest genre: animal-centered books for children. At first, Henry worked as a technical writer and journalist, perfecting her straightforward prose style. This talent for clear prose, her ability to see dramatic conflict, and her indefatigable energy as a researcher served Henry well when she turned to writing for children.
Henry read, interviewed, and traveled to gather material, which she then filed in boldly marked manila folders, giving her a flexible outline and easy access to information as she wrote her books. This efficient approach may explain how, between 1940 and 1946, Henry could produce not only 12 geography books, but also nine other books, including what Henry considers her first serious work, Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1945), one of many books that grew out of her notes for An Album of Horses (1951). This story of the first Morgan horse won the Junior Scholastic Gold Seal Award and the Award of the Friends of Literature and was made into a Walt Disney movie in 1972. It also brought Henry together with illustrator Wesley Dennis for a longtime collaboration producing "some of the most beautiful and worthwhile books ever published for children."
Henry has written well on many subjects—her works include biographies of Robert Fulton and Benjamin West, albums on birds and dogs, several dog stories, and one book on a talking fox named Cinnabar—but she has gained the greatest popularity and acclaim for her horse books. King of the Wind (1948), a fictional account of Godolphin Barb, the Arabian ancestor of Man-o-War, won the Newbery Medal. The book reads like romantic fantasy, but is based on copious research, a "whole horse van of letters." The mute stableboy, Agba, in his devotion to Godolphin, is typical of Henry's young protagonists.
Born to Trot (1950) tells the true story of Gibson White, the boy who owned and trained Rosalind, the "Queen of Trotters." One critic has noted this type of story succeeds because of the skill with which Henry spins "a narrative of triumph mixed with tragedy." Another young real-life hero, Giorgio Terni, was the basis of Gaudenzia: Pride of the Palio (1960), which describes his surprising victory in the hair-raising horse race tearing through the streets of Siena once a year.
The most famous horse in Henry's books appeared in Misty of Chincoteaque (1947) and introduced readers to the legend and modern reality of the wild ponies herded once a year on Pony Penning Day on this Virginia island. Misty, who played herself in a 1961 movie, is the type of plucky, intelligent horse every child hopes to own, and young readers must envy Paul and Maureen Beebe, who actually shared the adventure of capturing and training Misty. Further events in the lives of these two and the equally well-portrayed Grandma and Grandpa Beebe are followed in Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteaque (1949), which tells of the saving of an abandoned foal, and in Stormy, Misty's Foal (1963), in which the flooding of Chincoteaque, Misty's stay in the Beebes' kitchen during the catastrophe, and her eventual successful foaling are vividly recounted. In these Chincoteaque books Henry is at her best, using keen observation, careful recording and selection, and enough imagination to make the true stories flow like fiction.
Henry brought loving research to each of her many books. She showed her respect for children by maintaining high standards of journalism; and her young audience, who voted her many of the awards she held, repays this respect with its enthusiasm. Her books remain in print; they are in demand at libraries, perhaps because, as Rudyerd Boulton said of Henry: "The author has happily chosen to present factual information in a joyous way."
Auno and Tauno: A Story of Finland (1940). Dilly Dally Sally (1940). Birds at Home (1942; revised 1972). Geraldine Belinda (1942). Their First Igloo on Baffin Island (1943). A Boy and a Dog (1944). Robert Fulton: Boy Craftsman (1945). Always Reddy (1949). Little or Nothing from Nottingham (1949). Portfolio of Horses (1952). Brighty of Grand Canyon (1953; film version, 1966). Wagging Tails: Album of Dogs (1955). Cinnabar: The One O'Clock Fox (1956). Black Gold (1957). Muley Ears, Nobody's Dog (1959). All About Horses (1962). Portfolio of Horse Paintings (with W. Dennis, 1964). White Stallion of Lipizza (1964). Mustang: Wild Spirit of the West (1966). Dear Readers and Riders (1969). San Domingo: The Medicine Hat Stallion (1972). The Pictorial Life Story of Misty (1976). One Man's Horse (1977). The Marguerite Henry Misty Treasury: Three Complete Novels in One Volume (1998).
Collins, D. R., Write a Book for Me: The Story of Marguerite Henry (1999).
Authors and Illustrators of Children's Books: Writings on Their Lives and Works (1972). CA (1976). CB (1947). Junior Book of Authors (1951). Newbery Medal Books, 1922-1955 (1955).
Horn Book (Jan. 1950, Feb. 1954). Library Bulletin (Nov. 1947). Life (10 June 1955). NYTBR (22 Dec. 1957) PW (26 March 1949, obituary, 1997).
—CELIA CATLETT ANDERSON