One of the most beloved of all children’s book writers tells the story of a seemingly worn-out mare, owned by Molly’s family, who is carrying a secret: a baby mule! Young Molly thinks the new creature is the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen. She calls him Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley, and as the years go by, Molly discovers that, just like his mother, her mule is full of wonderful surprises.
A new book by Henry, author of the Newbery-winning King of the Wind (1948) and two Newbery Honor books, including Misty of Chincoteague (1947), invites high hopes. Sadly, this slim novel disappoints from the start. When 10-year-old Molly and her father purchase an aging mare at auction, the animal is a far cry from the sprightly young horse the girl has long coveted. Yet with a little care Lady Sue begins to thrive, and brings much happiness to Molly and her parents. Soon she gives birth to Brown Sunshine, a spirited mule who, in an easily foreseen ending, is crowned king of the pivotal Mule Day Celebration. In addition to its predictable plotting, Henry's story suffers from hackneyed characterization (the relentlessly teasing bad boy ends up, in Molly's view, "looking taller and wiser, and more wonderful to me"); awkward writing ("To spend more time with Brown Sunshine, Molly's classroom work improved sharply"); and a grating overuse of exclamation points ("Molly!... we each have our own animal now! The baby mule with the handsome ears is all yours!"). A generous sampling of Shields's realistic line drawings dresses up the text. Ages 8-12.