Marguerite Henry, Author of Misty of Chincoteague

Marguerite Henry

Marguerite Henry (April 13, 1902 — November 26, 1977), was a beloved American author of animal stories for children. She authored more than fifty children’s books, capturing especially the dreams and fantasies of horse-loving children everywhere.

Many of Marguerite Henry’s books are based on true stories of horses (and occasionally other animals), and have since been translated into twelve languages. Her best-known novels are Misty of Chincoteague  (the basis for the 1961 movie Misty) and its sequels.

King of the Wind (1948) is another of her most popular novels, recognized as “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” by the American Library Association. Both it and Misty of Chincoteague won the highest accolade a children’s book can garner, the Newbery Medal Award; King of the Wind won the Young Reader’s Choice Award in 1951 as well.

 

Early Life

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Marguerite was the youngest of the five children of Louis and Anna Breithaupt. She was stricken with rheumatic fever at age six, which kept her bedridden until she was twelve years old.

Marguerite wasn’t allowed to go to school because of her weak state and the fear of spreading her illness to others, and discovered the joy of reading while confined. She read many western adventure stories by Zane Grey and decided at a young age that she wanted to live on a ranch of her own someday, where she could see her own horses run and play.

Shortly after Marguerite discovered the joys of reading, she found a love for writing as well. Her father, a publisher, gifted her a little red desk and some writing supplies one for Christmas. He continued to encourage his daughter’s writing, from the age of seven on, by supplying her with reams of paper and lots of pencils. She always wrote about animals, including dogs, cats, birds, and foxes, but her stories focused primarily on horses. 

In 1913, when Marguerite was eleven years old, she published her first article. Her mother told her about a local magazine that was looking for submissions by children about the earth’s seasons. She wrote a short story about the change of the seasons, “Hide and Seek in Autumn Leaves” which the magazine published. It earned her twelve dollars, a tidy sum at the time.

 

Marriage and the Start of a Writing Career

Marguerite studied to become an English school teacher at the Milwaukee State Teacher’s College. One summer, she went on a fishing trip where she met her future husband, Sidney Henry. They were married on May 5, 1923.

After the two were married, Marguerite continued to write articles for magazines. Her husband was supportive of her writing ability, and encouraged her to write for publications such as The Saturday Evening Post and Reader’s Digest. 

In 1939, Marguerite and her husband bought a small farm cottage on two acres of land in Wayne, Illinois, which they named Mole Meadows. It was the farm Henry always dreamed of as a child. 

In 1940, she published her first full-length book, Auno and Tauno: A Story of Finland. This was quickly followed by several other children’s books, including Dilly Dally Sally (1940), Geraldine Belinda (1942), and Their First Igloo on Baffin Island (1943).

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Wesley Dennis Illustration

Illustration by Wesley Dennis. Photo: Askart.com
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A Literary Partnership

Marguerite Henry’s first book to earn critical acclaim was her novel, Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1945). After finishing the manuscript for the story, Henry scanned her local library’s children’s book section looking for the perfect illustrator.

She stumbled upon a story called Flip, written and illustrated by Wesley Dennis, and fell in love with the illustrations. She sent Dennis a copy of the manuscript to Justin Morgan Had a Horse, asked him to illustrate the novel. He kindly accepted, and the story became a Newbery Honor Book.

The two went on to produce more than twenty novels together, thus beginning the start of a long and successful partnership.

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Marguerite Henry and Misty

Marguerite Henry with the real Misty
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The Legacy of Misty

Misty of Chincoteague (1947) became one of Marguerite Henry and Wesley Dennis’ most popular and enduring works. Like most of her books, this children’s novel was based on a true story. Marguerite valued historical authenticity, and spent many months meticulously researching each of her books before writing them.

In 1945, she had heard the tale of ponies who survived the shipwreck of a Spanish galleon hundreds of years before. They supposedly swam to shore and live on an island off the coast of Virginia and Maryland. Intrigued, Marguerite and Wesley Dennis went to observe Pony Penning Day, when the ponies swim from Assateague to Chincoteague Island.

Misty was a real filly that Marguerite spotted at the auction on Pony Penning Day in Chincoteague. “The first time I saw Misty, my heart bumped up into my throat until I thought I’d choke,” she wrote in A Pictorial Life Story of Misty. “It was a moment to laugh and cry and pray over, especially if all your childhood you wanted a pony and couldn’t have one on account of your rheumatic fever.”

Misty lived with Marguerite for several years while she worked on her book. As usual, Wesley Dennis illustrated it. Rand McNally published the novel in 1947, when it was met with great success. After the publication of the book, Misty became an instant celebrity and was even invited to an ALA conference!

Henry’s work has captivated generations of children and young adults and won many honors and awards. In 1961, Misty of Chincoteague won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and was named a Newberry Honor Book.

Misty became the subject of a 1961 motion picture film, as did Brighty in 1967. Justin Morgan Had a Horse was filmed by Walt Disney Productions in 1972, and the King of the Wind came to the big screen in 1990.

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Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry

A review of Misty of Chincoteague
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Final wishes

Marguerite Henry finished her last novel, Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley (1996) just before her death in 1997. She died at the age of 95 in her home in Rancho Santa Fe, California after a series of strokes.

Married for sixty-four years, Marguerite and Sidney Henry had no children, but they did have many animals that inspired some of her stories throughout her career. It was her dying wish that her ashes be scattered in the Pacific Ocean, as were her husband’s (he had died a decade earlier). A niece and nephew of Marguerite and Sidney Henry did the honors.

To this day, Marguerite Henry remains one of the classic voices of animal stories written for children. A great many of her books remain in print and continue to be read; her legacy of heartwarming stories lives on.

Contributed by Anna Fiore: Anna is a 2021 graduate of SUNY-New Paltz, majoring in Communications, with a concentration in Public Relations and a minor in journalism.

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King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry

Marguerite Henry books on Bookshop.org* and Amazon*


More about Marguerite Henry

Major works

  • Auno and Tauno: A Story of Finland (1940)
  • Dilly Dally Sally (1940)
  • Birds at Home (1942)
  • Geraldine Belinda (1942)
  • Their First Igloo on Baffin Island (1943)
  • A Boy and a Dog (1944)
  • Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1945)
  • The Little Fellow (1945)
  • Robert Fulton, Boy Craftsman (1945)
  • Always Reddy (1947); also published as Shamrock Queen
  • Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin (1947)
  • Misty of Chincoteague (1947)
  • King of the Wind: the Story of the Godolphin Arabian (1948)
  • Little-or-Nothing from Nottingham (1949)
  • Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague (1949)
  • Born To Trot (1950)
  • Album of Horses (1951)
  • Brighty of the Grand Canyon (1953)
  • Wagging Tails: Album of Dogs (1955)
  • Cinnabar, the One O’Clock Fox (1956)
  • Misty, the Wonder Pony, by Misty, Herself (1956)
  • Black Gold (1957)
  • Muley-Ears, Nobody’s Dog (1959)
  • Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio (1960); also published as The Wildest Horse Race in the World
  • All About Horses (1962)
  • Five O’Clock Charlie (1962)
  • Stormy, Misty’s Foal (1963)
  • Portfolio of Horse Paintings (1964)
  • White Stallion of Lipizza (1964)
  • Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West (1966)
  • Dear Readers and Riders (1969); also published as Dear Marguerite Henry
  • Stories from Around the World (1971)
  • San Domingo, the Medicine Hat Stallion (1972)
  • A Pictorial Life Story of Misty (1976)
  • Our First Pony (1984)
  • Misty’s Twilight  (1992)
  • Album of Horses: a pop-up book (1993)
  • Brown Sunshine of Sawdust Valley  (1996)
  • My Misty Diary (1997)

Selected film adaptations

  • Misty (1961)
  • Brighty (1967)
  • Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1972)
  • King of the Wind  (1990)

More information and sources

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