Marguerite Henry Biography

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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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Marguerite Henry, born Marguerite Breithaupt on April 13, 1902, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was the youngest of five children. Her father was a printer and publisher, and by age eleven, Henry was not only proofreading for him but had also published a story of her own in the Delineator, a woman's magazine. After graduating with a teaching degree from Milwaukee State Teachers College, she married Sidney Crocker Henry, who shared her strong interest in animals. They first lived in Chicago, where Henry wrote articles for furniture trade magazines and then for periodicals with a wider readership, such as the Saturday Evening Post and Forum. In 1939 they moved to the outskirts of Wayne, Illinois, where the country setting enabled Henry to observe animals and birds at close hand, inspiring her to write animal books.

Her first children's book, Auno and Tauno, was published in 1940. Written for preschoolers, this story was followed by two series of geographies for third and fourth graders. During these years, she also wrote several children's story books. The Little Fellow, a story about a colt, was her first animal story to attract critical acclaim; it was a Junior Literary Guild selection. Its more famous successor, Justin Morgan Had a Horse, won the Junior Scholastic Gold Seal Award and the Award of the Friends of Literature for 1948.

Other awards soon followed, notably the important Newbery Medal in 1949, given by the American Library Association for the best American children's book of the year, for King of the Wind. In her acceptance speech for this award, Henry reveals the deep reverence for living things that inspires her to write about the struggles of humans and animals.

Henry's most successful books are her horse stories. Her careful historical research, vivid scenes, characterizations, and ability to evoke emotions in an honest, unsentimental way in these books have won her lasting critical and popular acclaim. Her award-winning horse books include Misty of Chincoteague; Brighty of the Grand Canyon; Black Gold; Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West; Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio; and San Domingo, the Medicine Hat Stallion. In each of these, Henry builds her stories around an authentic breed of horse, usually taking some of her plot from historical fact. Over a dozen of her books have been translated into foreign languages.