Tuesday, August 17, 2010


THE LITTLE HORSE BUS (1952) was the third picture book created by Graham Greene and Dorothy Glover (who published as Dorothy Craigie). Because there was such a long lag time between when their second book The Little Red Fire Engine was composed and when it was published, the two books appeared in the same year. (For more information on Greene and Glover's personal lives, and the circumstances around the delay of The Little Red Fire Engine, see my previous posts here and here.) After Glover's death, the book was re-illustrated in 1974 by Edward Ardizzone. While some of the behavior in the first two books might border on criminal, it is here that Greene first brings an actual crime to his children's work.

"EVERYBODY FOR MILES AROUND Goose Lane used to buy their groceries at Mr. Potter's shop." He has several employees, three cats to keep out the mice, and a pony. And he always has a lollipop at hand for children in need.

One day a competitor opens shop across the street. "It was called the Hygienic (which only means clean) Emporium (which only means shop) Company Limited (and that means it was owned by Sir William Popkins, who never came into the shop and never put lollipops in bags.)"

Mr. Potter's clientele defects to the shiny new store. He is forced to let his assistants and three cats go. He only keeps on the delivery boy and the pony out of a sense of responsibility, but he doesn't really have the money to even pay his bills. He does not know what he is going to do.

Then late one night he hears a banging outside. He goes down and finds a garage with a broken lock whose door was banging in the wind. Inside he finds a "dusty and neglected...little horse bus".

The Hygienic Emporium makes its grocery deliveries in a hansom cab. If Mr. Potter could make deliveries in the little horse bus, he might be able to compete. The plan, however, fails.

Meanwhile, the booming business across the street attracts the attention of a pair of thieves who plan to steal the hansom cab when it makes its weekly bank deposit run on Saturday. "Puzzle. Find the thieves."

The thieves make their move, and race off with the hansom cab. The little horse bus, pony, and delivery boy are nearby, but it is the little horse bus who realizes that the hansom is being driven by thieves. He pushes the pony to action (and the delivery boy gets thrown in the process). The hansom cab thunders down the street with the little horse bus in mad pursuit.

The thieves get away, but the little horse bus is determined. He forces the pony to walk through the night in search of the culprits.

At last they find a clue: the hansom cab's lamp, which was knocked off in the chase. The pony wants to find a policeman, but the little horse bus once again forces the pony to action.

The thieves are captured. Mr. Potter gets a big reward from the police. And people are so excited by the little horse bus's bravery that they come to Mr. Potter's store to shop rather than the Emporium just to see him. The Emporium is forced to close its doors for lack of business, and Mr. Potter gets to live in a dream.

Background material for this post comes from Norman Sherry's three-volume biography of Graham Greene (Volume Two in particular) and Brian Alderson's article The Four (Or Five?... Or Six?... Or Seven?...) Children's Books of Graham Greene, which appeared in the December 2005 issue of Children's Literature in Education.

Coming Soon: Graham Greene's Little Steamroller

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