Paint the Wind by Pam Munoz Ryan, 2007
I always enjoy a Pam Munoz Ryan book. Her novels make me hum with happiness and invite me to sit down for a cozy read. She also seems to write about things that I have a personal connection to.
Esperanza Rising is a book that continues to resonate with readers. Just this week, I was with a group of high school girls who sighed with happiness as they recalled reading Esperanza Rising in elementary school and junior high. I always felt a bond with this book myself because Esperanza's mother is treated in the Kern County Hospital where several events in my family's life went down in the 1950s. The fascinating story of Charlotte Parkhurst in Riding Freedom is graced with the compelling cover art of Brian Selznick which draws readers to the book. Becoming Naomi Leon is a sweetheart of a story about family.
So, at a recent library sub job, when I heard a very nice volunteer parent (who happens to work at the local bookstore Blue Willow Bookshop) offering an arc of this new PMR book to the library aide to read, I'm afraid I began to make piteous little mewling sounds which put her in the awkward position of having to offer me the arc first.
The title, Paint the Wind, evokes the beloved, King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry and the book will have great appeal for those same horse loving book readers. The story opens as the mare, Artemisia, is about to give birth. Artemisia is worried about the baby as her last foal was stillborn.
The scene shifts to Pasadena, California (another personal stomping ground) where Maya lives with her stern and autocratic grandmother. Photos of her father abound throughout the house but all images and mentions of her mother are forbidden. Maya has only the haziest of memories of her early childhood but she treasures a box of plastic horses that belonged to her mother.
The grandmother's sudden death brings many things to light, including the news that Maya was supposed to have been spending her summers with her mother's family in Wyoming all these past years.
Emotionally withdrawn after her years with her grandmother, Maya has a hard time responding to the warmth and love of her grandfather, great-aunt and great-uncle. Her keen interest in horses helps her find her place and even tolerate the hostility from her cousin, Payton. He is used to being the only kid at the family camp along the Sweetwater River during the summer. With the help of her Aunt Vi she begins to learn about her mother and family.
Maya's story is inter-cut with scenes of Artemisia, her colt and the rest of the wild mustang herd. Maya and Aunt Vi see the herd captured in a "gathering" of wild mustangs but the mare and her colt evade the round-up. Without the protection of a stallion, the horses are vulnerable to attack from predators so Maya spends long hours in the saddle looking for them. When a disaster traps Maya in a remote area and she must win Artemisia's trust in order to survive and get home.
PMR tells the story in four parts, "Walk," “Jog," "Lope," and "Gallop" which match Maya's emotional growth and happiness. Parts of the storyline felt a little forced. I wondered why Maya’s grandfather had never challenged the custody arrangements for his granddaughter. But again, the author hit another personal note with me as there is a history of ranching in Wyoming in my family.
This is a book for horse lovers. Fans of Terri Farley's books will be familiar with the discussion of the controversial "gathering" of wild mustangs. There is a glossary and a list of websites, media, and books for readers who want to know more about the subject.
Paint the Wind celebrates swimming in a river, days of horseback riding, camp chores and caring for the horses -- a summer vacation that any horse loving kid would give their iPod and Playstation III to enjoy.