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Mary On Horseback: Three Mountain Stories Paperback – October 23, 2000


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Three well-honed first-person narratives add up to an outstanding biography of one remarkable woman: Mary Breckinridge, founder of the still-extant Frontier Nursing Service in the Appalachian Mountains. After being widowed twice and having lost two children, Breckenridge enrolled in nursing school, determined to help other youngsters live. Wells takes up Breckenridge's story upon her arrival in 1923 Kentucky, through the perspectives of three people whose lives were greatly affected by her mission. John Hawkins, the young son of a "river man" injured while riding newly cut logs down the rapids, tells how Mary fortuitously arrived at their doorstep before the "horse doctor with a bone saw" came to saw his father's leg off. An 18-year-old nurse who travels from her native Scotland to work with Mary describes her battle to convince the mountain residents (who are terrified of needles) to let the nurses vaccinate them against rampant diphtheria. In the finalAand most stirringAof the accounts, Pearl refuses to talk after witnessing her mother's death from childbirth. Through drafting the girl into her cause, Mary moves Pearl to speak again. Wells's careful attention to the details and hardships of mountain living authenticates these achingly real accounts, as she spells out both the enormity of Breckenridge's challenge and the triumph of even the smallest victories. McCarty's finely crafted drawings, based on actual photographs, add to the historical accuracy and elegance of the volume. Ages 8-12.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Grade 2-5-The practice of modern medicine was practically nonexistent in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky in the 1920s. Diphtheria, typhoid, and small pox ravaged the mountain dwellers' lives. Mary Breckinridge, herself a widow whose children had also died, decided to change things. This pioneering nurse-midwife who founded the Frontier Nursing Service is introduced through the eyes of three fictional characters whose lives are irrevocably changed by their encounters with her. Young John nearly faints at his first sight of a needle and syringe that are used to treat his injured father. Miss Ireland, an 18-year-old nurse from Scotland, braves the mountain wilderness at night to inoculate a young child. Pearl, her mamma's "ownliest sugarplum" retreats into a world of silence upon her mother's death until she is loved out of it by Mary and her nurses. Though each story is brief, Wells's realistic yet poetic prose perfectly captures the dichotomy of the majestic beauty of Appalachia and the harsh realities of mountain life. McCarty's evocative illustrations, based on photographs taken for the Frontier Nursing Service, are an ideal complement to the text. An afterword provides a brief biography of Breckinridge and information on the Frontier Nursing Service. This one's a gem.
Peggy Morgan, The Library Network, Southgate, MI
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Paperback: 64 pages
  • Publisher: Puffin (October 23, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780141308159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141308159
  • ASIN: 014130815X
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.2 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in New York City, Rosemary Wells grew up in a house "filled with books, dogs, and nineteenth-century music." Her childhood years were spent between her parents' home near Red Bank, New Jersey, and her grandmother's rambling stucco house on the Jersey Shore. Most of her sentimental memories, both good and bad, stem from that place and time. Her mother was a dancer in the Russian Ballet, and her father a playwright and actor. Mrs. Wells says, "Both my parents flooded me with books and stories. My grandmother took me on special trips to the theater and museums in New York. "Rosemary Wells's career as an author and illustrator spans more than 30 years and 60 books. She has won numerous awards, and has given readers such unforgettable characters as Max and Ruby, Noisy Nora, and Yoko. She has also given Mother Goose new life in two enormous, definitive editions, published by Candlewick. Wells wrote and illustrated Unfortunately Harriet, her first book with Dial, in 1972. One year later she wrote the popular Noisy Nora. "The children and our home life have inspired, in part, many of my books. Our West Highland white terrier, Angus, had the shape and expressions to become Benjamin and Tulip, Timothy, and all the other animals I have made up for my stories." Her daughters Victoria and Beezoo were constant inspirations, especially for the now famous "Max" board book series. "Simple incidents from childhood are universal," Wells says. "The dynamics between older and younger siblings are common to all families."But not all of Wells' ideas come from within the family circle. Many times when speaking, Mrs. Wells is asked where her ideas come from. She usually answers, "It's a writer's job to have ideas." Sometimes an idea comes from something she reads or hears about, as in the case of her recent book, Mary on Horseback, a story based on the life of Mary Breckenridge, who founded the Frontier Nursing Service. Timothy Goes to School was based on an incident in which her daughter was teased for wearing the wrong clothes to a Christmas concert. Her dogs, west highland terriers, Lucy and Snowy, work their way into her drawings in expression and body position. She admits, "I put into my books all of the things I remember. I am an accomplished eavesdropper in restaurants, trains, and gatherings of any kind. These remembrances are jumbled up and changed because fiction is always more palatable than truth. Memories become more true as they are honed and whittled into characters and stories."

Customer Reviews

So when I heard of this book I had to include it in our collection.
Mom in KY
It is a beautifully told story of courage and overcoming grief for the good of others.
Jennifer
I highly recommend this book for elementary aged children - especially girls!
Evening S. Bowers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By RIZAGI@aol.com on January 10, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I was lucky to visit the Frontier Nursing Service and prepare oral histories of some of the people whose lives were touched by Mary Breckinridge and others heroines of the FNS. Wells captures the ridges and hollers and the communities of this side of Kentucky in simple, moving vignettes.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kathy Draughn on February 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
MARY ON HORSEBACK by Rosemary Wells is a beautifully written account of how Mary Breckinridge devoted her life to helping people of rural Appalachia during the 1920's and 30's. In an area where there were no hospitals or doctors, Mary established a nursing service and saved the lives of many people. The story of her devotion and unselfishness is unique and worthy of praise, as is the author's style of writing. Wells does an outstanding job of capturing the dialect, emotions and soul of the mountain people of Kentucky. Black and white illustrations by Peter McCarty add to the beauty and authenticity of the book. People of all ages will enjoy this book. Younger children would love having it read to them. Middle school students can learn valuable lessons from reading it themselves, and it's complex enough to hold the attention of adults.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lissa Stephen on October 3, 2001
Format: Paperback
Mary Breckinridge (20th century nurse, leader, & visionary) set the standard for rural healthcare. Rosemary Wells' book takes 3 stories from the exciting life & times of a great American woman and brings them to children. This book is for all ages-young & old. I did a college-level biography on Ms. Breckinridge as I found her life and life's work so interesting (her autobiography is excellent & available through Amazon) This would be an excellent classroom reader grades 3-5 and a great read for anyone interested in history, great women, and Americans.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Nicole Woodard on June 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I thought that this book was an incredible testament of the human spirit! The title character completed her dream of caring for the poor people of the Kentucky mountains. This was done after Mary Breckinridge herself had undergone enormous personal tragedy. As an elementary school teacher, I plan to use this book as an example of the great things a person can do inspite of one's own circumstances.
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14 of 21 people found the following review helpful By DesertVisitor on April 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
Rosemary Wells is one of my favorite authors--she is a funny and gifted storyteller. My daughter and I have loved her Max and Ruby stories, above all. However, this book I am wary of as the life and work of Mary Breckinridge, which I have researched as a historian, are not things to be whitewashed. In order to create her domain in Appalachian Kentucky, Mary visited with traditional midwives and then wrote reports describing them as largely dangerous, dirty, unskilled in order to make the case for the establishment of the Frontier Nursing Service. She had no solid data that midwives, though no doubt a mixed group like any other, were in reality "dangerous" and, in fact, to this day no scholar has been able to prove that nurse-midwives provided better care than traditional midwives in the region. Many other factors have contributed to a reduction in infant and maternal mortalities. Her lack of solid data in the end, however, didn't matter as she had the authority and connections as a women of wealth and privilege to get the political and financial backing for FNS. To raise funds, she told wealthy donors that she was saving babies of "pure stock." This sale pitch worked well for her as this was a time when many feared "race suicide" and desperately wanted more "white" babies to be born. Breckinridge's racism was also made powerful in her lifelong efforts to barring Black nurse-midwives from membership in the profession's national organization.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Carter L. Wiecking on September 3, 2008
Format: Paperback
Mrs. Wells' slim little biography of Mary Breckinridge, told in three moving vignettes, is evocative of Hemingway at his best. Each vignette is simply, beautifully told without a word wasted.

Breckinridge and her patients and nurses come so vividly to life in this little book that it looms in my mind as a much larger work. Mrs. Wells is a genius, and this book is one that would be easy to share aloud with audiences of any age.
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By silverhfarm on January 6, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Read this book in one night. Bought it to read to my class as a way to integrate social studies and reading.
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