cover image The Finest Horse in Town

The Finest Horse in Town

Jacqueline Briggs Martin. HarperCollins Publishers, $15 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-024151-3

This tale of two sisters who run a dry-goods store in horse-and-buggy-era Maine is based on the long-lost family story of Martin's two great-aunts. The author of the Bizzy Bones books has spun a gossamer prose poem of unaffected sweetness, told as a series of vignettes that speculate on who might have tended the sisters' magnificent horse, Prince, while the two women were minding the store. Could it have been an unscrupulous horse trader, who almost duped the sisters out of their prize stallion? Or was it a one-legged logger, who taught Prince to dance to the strains of a harmonica? As Martin points out in her wistful refrain, ``An old watchmaker told us / what he remembered. / And he was there.'' Remembered only in fragments, the story is essentially a slender one; but the beauty of its nostalgic, sing-song language and descriptions of village life more than compensate for its lack of substance. Gaber's ( The Woman Who Flummoxed the Fairies ) exquisite watercolors have the naive beauty of early American folk paintings. Ages 5-10. (June)