Marguerite Henry (1902 – 1997) was an award-winning children’s book author who had a unique way of writing her books. She often would bring the subject matter home with her in order to capture the true essence of a subject. She bought a Morgan horse named Friday in order to work on her book Justin Morgan Had a Horse and a burro for Brighty of the Grand Canyon.
Her most famous purchase was a tiny young palomino pinto filly foaled in the famed feral herds on the island of Assateague. The filly would be the real-life inspiration for a trilogy of books, including the 1948 Newberry Honor Medal-winning Misty of Chincoteague. The filly was shipped to Henry’s Illinois home when she was weaned. Years later, Henry would ship Misty back to Chincoteague for breeding.
Marguerite Briethaupt was born to write. She was the youngest child of publisher Louis Briethaupt of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Marguerite nearly died from rheumatic fever when she was six years old. Confined to the house, she developed a love of reading. When she was older, she would especially enjoy the Westerns of Zane Grey.
When she was seven, her father gave her several Christmas gifts to encourage her to be a writer. She received a red desk, colored paper, a hole puncher, scissors, pencils, a pencil sharpener and a pencil holder. By the time she was 11, she’d sold her first story, “Hide-and-Seek in Colored Leaves.”
Marguerite originally wanted to be an English teacher. She graduated from Milwukee State Teachers College. During this time, she took a fishing trip and met the man she would marry, Sidney Henry. She still had the urge to write. She managed to get stories published in magazines such as “Saturday Evening Post” and “Reader’s Digest.” Her first book, Auno and Tauno: A Story of Finland was published in 1940.
Henry would go on to write 58 books, most of which had to do with horses, donkeys or mules. Her most famous books were illustrated by Wesley Dennis, an artist she recommended to her publisher, Rand McNally. Dennis accompanied Henry on her first trip to Chincoteague to research Pony Penning Day. Sadly, Dennis died in 1963. Five of Henry’s books were turned into movies.
Henry never forgot about the debt she owed Chincoteague. She helped raise money to rebuild the herds nearly wiped out by the 1962 Nor’easter. She also helped start the Misty of Chincoteague Foundation to help promote reading for children.