Monday, October 17, 2011

The Eighty Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts
ISBN-10: 0345521080  - Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 23, 2011), 352 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

In The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman the Horse That Inspired a Nation, Letts give us the well researched and moving story of Harry De Leyer and Snowman, the horse that he saved, and a glimpse into US history during the 40s and 50s.

If World War II hadn't happened, Harry De Leyer certainly would have had an easier life.  He had come from a wealthy brewing family but with Nazi occupation, Harry's father joined the local Resistance. As a young boy, Harry drove a wagon bringing contraband to other families past German soldiers.  The end of World War II left the De Leyer family with much of their wealth destroyed with the buildings burned down and much of their assets confiscated. After the War, Harry and his wife came to America hoping to build a new life with only $160.  It was through acts of kindness that Harry connected with an American family and found his first job on a tobacco farm in North Carolina.

Letts meticulously covered what it was like for the De Leyers.  Even as a tobacco farmer at a time of mechanization when horses were less available and less used, Harry still found a way to connect to a horse.  As Harry gradually made it to the Knox School, we see how Harry took risks and made his own luck.  Lett also shows how Harry was the sort of teacher that we all remember - he always saw the best in the girls.  He encouraged courage and success, lead by example and kindness.

The story of Harry and Snowman is a real life Black Beauty sort of story. It's the sort of story that leaves an animal lover like me in tears.  Harry is late to the local horse auction and the only horses left are those allocated to the slaughterhouse.  The butcher's rep is willing to show Harry the horses.  Snowman looks like a very thin plow horse with scars but with a good temperament.  Somehow, Snowman and Harry connect.  Harry is low on funds and is only able to offer a $20 profit to the butcher's rep.

The De Leyers open their hearts to Snowman and his gentle temperament was perfect as a teaching horse.  The story moves along well as we learn about the Knox School, Harry De Leyer and his unlikely champion.   Harry discovers Snowman's jumping talent when the horse keeps coming back home.  Each story about Snowman makes clear that this horse has uncommon "bottom" -- the heart to succeed.  At a time when the workingclass American has little to look forward to, Snowman and Harry De Leyer win the country's imagination.  The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation is an engrossing and moving read.  It's a wonderful story and I'm so glad that Elizabeth Letts shared Harry and Snowman's story.  We can do with stories and heroes with bottom.

About the Author:
Elizabeth Letts is the award-winning author of two novels, Quality of Care, and Family Planning, and one children's book, The Butter Man.  Quality of Care was a Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Books-A-Million Book Club selection.  An equestrian from childhood, Letts represented California as a junior equestrian, and was runner-up in the California Horse and Rider of the Year competition.  She currently lives with her husband and four children in Baltimore, Maryland.

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