Alison Lester, The Quicksand Pony, Allen & Unwin, March 2021, 155 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk) ISBN 9781790526306
‘Biddy, I’m sorry, we’re going to have to leave her.’
‘What?’ Biddy struggled out of the quicksand. ‘You can’t leave her! The tide’s coming in. She’ll drown!’
The Quicksand Pony is a moving novel for intermediate readers from beloved Australian author and inaugural Australian Children’s Laureate, Alison Lester.
It tells the story of Biddy and her beloved white pony, Bella, who becomes trapped in quicksand during a cattle muster. Biddy is forced to leave Bella, and when she returns the next day, the horse is gone but there are hoofprints in the sand, along with small footprints and the paw marks of a dog. Who was on this remote beach and did they save Bella?
The Quicksand Pony is set on the rugged Australian coastline and Lester expertly interweaves two narratives — that of Biddy, the daughter of cattle drovers, and the story of Joycie and her son Joe, who disappeared in the rugged country nine years before.
The Quicksand Pony was published in 1997 and has been re-released with a new cover to celebrate Alison Lester’s 1 million sales worldwide. When the book was originally released, it was shortlisted for the National Children’s Award, the Festival Awards for Literature (1998) and won the WA Young Readers Book Awards (1999). The story remains as engaging and engrossing almost 25 years later.
The inspiration for The Quicksand Pony came from Alison Lester’s childhood, and it offers a unique insight into Australian life that is unfamiliar to most younger readers in 2021.
Alison Lester grew up on a farm in South Gippsland, Victoria near Wilson’s Promontory, and although locations in the book aren’t named, it’s clear that Lester set the book in a fictionalised version of this area. This edition includes notes from Alison Lester detailing the aspects of the book that were taken from her life — something which will fascinate readers and provide teachers and librarians with interesting discussion points.
The publisher is marketing The Quicksand Pony for readers aged 8-12 years. I think it’s more appropriate for the older end of this age group (10-12 years) because of some topics it covers, including the loss of a parent and the trauma of leaving a beloved pony in distress.
I highly recommend The Quicksand Pony and hope that its re-release will see this classic of Australian children’s literature engage a whole new generation of readers.
Reviewed by Caroline Arnoul