Sue Houser is an award-winning author who weaves New Mexico’s history and traditions into her children’s books, as well as her nonfiction and historical fiction releases. Her latest book, Amelia and the Magic Ponies (Irie Books, 2022), was inspired by a wooden carousel found abandoned in Peñasco, New Mexico. You’ll find Sue on her website at SueHouser.com and on Facebook. Read more about her writing in SWW’s 2017 and 2020 interviews, and visit Amazon for all of her books.
Amelia and the Magic Ponies is written for children ages 4–8 years old. What do you hope readers will learn from the story you tell in the book?
I want to remind readers of the innocence of children and that by believing in dreams and possibilities, amazing things can happen.
When did you first hear about Los Caballitos (The Little Ponies), and what compelled you to begin working on the story?
Several years ago, a column in the Albuquerque Journal caught my attention. I read that a carousel in Taos, New Mexico is over one hundred years old. The antique merry-go-round, owned and restored by the Lions Club of Taos, is in operation during Las Fiestas de Santiago y Santa Ana every July on the historic plaza. I have always loved carousels, and I was curious. So when July came, I went to the fiesta and observed the wonder and delight on the faces of the children as they rode on the wooden ponies.
Who are your main characters in the book? What challenges do you set before them?
Amelia is eager to ride Los Caballitos and runs ahead of her grandfather to get in line at the fiesta in Peñasco, New Mexico. Abuelo falls and injures his leg. They return home – before Amelia has a chance to ride. The next fiesta, the ponies are not there. Amelia learns they are in an old barn and finds them in a deplorable condition. She wants her grandfather to fix them, but he is somewhat crippled. Amelia often visits the ponies. One day, a thunderstorm rolls in. Unable to return home, Amelia spends the night in the barn with the broken ponies.
How did the book come together?
I actually started it about 15 years ago. First, I wrote the non-fiction version of Tio Vivo (the name given to the restored carousel) but felt it needed more magic. The carousel’s turning and the ponies’ swaying felt like poetry to me. I tried, but I’m not a poet. So, next, I wrote the story from the point of view of one of the wooden horses. I liked that version, but my publisher/editor Gerald Hausman (of Irie Books) thought children might not connect with a wooden horse. He was right. A child needed to be the main character.
If you had input into the cover and interior artwork (illustrated by Mariah Fox), what was that experience like?
The cover reflects something magical is going to happen. I like it. But in the illustration where Amelia spent the night with the ponies, Mariah showed the wooden ponies to be in good condition. We discussed the narrative about the ponies’ damaged and broken state. Mariah created distress in the scene by adding rain coming down and putting bandages on the ponies. That was rather clever! I especially love her illustration of live musicians serenading the carousel riders, which is historically accurate.
What topics or themes does your book touch on that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
- Something old does have value and may have an exciting story to tell.
- When an activity is shared, it can be more enjoyable.
- Don’t give up on your hopes and dreams.
What was your favorite part of writing Amelia and the Magic Ponies?
I enjoyed the research and even visited the National Carousel Museum in Leavenworth, Kansa. A highlight was watching delighted children ride the simple, colorful wooden ponies as they rode around and around.
Are you working on any projects now?
I am querying two picture books: Benjamin, The Eager Beaver―about a beaver who doesn’t want to grow up and Juanita’s Heavenly Bizcochitos―about a young girl who saves the day for her grandmother by baking the Las Posadas cookies. Another book, Walter Steps Up to the Plate (Artemesia Publishing), is a middle-grade historical fiction with a release date set for October, 2023. I can’t wait!
What else would you like readers to know?
Amelia and the Magic Ponies won 1st place in the 2023 New Mexico Press Women Zia Children’s Book Award. I will be giving a talk and signing books at Treasure House Books on Sunday, April 16, 2023 from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.