Ben decides he wants his own pony in this eighth book of a chapter book series inspired by Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague.
Even though Ben is allowed to ride and groom his sister’s pony, Starbuck, everyone knows Starbuck is really Willa’s pony: the two are inseparable, as close as a girl and pony can be. But then the kids discover a wild, renegade pony plucking apples from a tree. Ben names the pony Winesap, but Willa doesn’t want her brother to grow too attached, as she’s sure they’ll find his original owners and Ben will be heartbroken when he’s returned. But it’s too late, and just like that, Ben and Winesap become the best of friends. Will Ben finally get to have a pony of his own?
“SPIDERS? BEETLES?” BEN DUNLAP ASKED. “What about bedbugs?”
Willa Dunlap looked up from her after-school snack to stare at her younger brother. “Do you have to talk about bugs,” she asked, “while I’m eating peanut butter and crackers?”
“Okay, maybe not bugs,” Ben went on. “But field mice could be a possibility.”
“Mom,” Willa told her mother as she walked into the kitchen, “make Ben stop.”
“What’s this about bugs, Ben?” Mom asked as she placed her laptop on the kitchen counter.
“You and Dad were talking about how there are no reservations for Thanksgiving weekend,” Ben explained, “and it’s only two weeks away. I was just trying to figure out why.”
Willa’s dad was busy preparing dinner for the two guests at the inn that week. It was November and the slow season at Misty Inn and the Family Farm Restaurant. But that didn’t stop Chef Eric Dunlap from cooking up a storm.
“There are no creepy crawlies inside our bed-and-breakfast, Ben,” Dad insisted. “Outside, but not inside.”
“No mice, either,” Willa said with a grin. “New Cat makes sure of that.”
She picked up their pet cat and held him close. “Why don’t we have guests for Thanksgiving weekend?” she asked. “We were totally booked solid in the summer.”
“Everybody was here for the pony swim,” Mom said.
Dad looked over his shoulder with a wink. “You did hear about the annual pony swim, Willa?” he asked. “When a herd of wild ponies swim across the bay from Assateague Island to Chincoteague?”
Willa knew her dad was teasing. The pony swim was world famous and the biggest event on Chincoteague Island. For the past ninety-two years.
“The pony swim is the best,” Willa admitted. “But don’t people want to see the wild snow geese that fly here in November? They’re awesome too.”
Dad’s paring knife made thumping sounds on his cutting board as he diced celery. “Sure they are,” he said. “But most people like to spend Thanksgiving with good friends and family, like the song says.”
“What song, Dad?” Ben asked.
Dad stopped chopping. He cleared his throat, then belted out in a booming voice: “ ‘Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go.’ ”
“Got it, Dad.” Willa chuckled. “Except Grandma Edna and Grandpa Reed won’t be over any rivers or through any woods this Thanksgiving.”
She picked up a travel brochure Grandma Edna had dropped off the other day. “They’ll be thousands of miles away in Hawaii.”
“I can’t picture Grandma and Grandpa in Hawaii,” Ben said, shaking his head. “No way.”
“Why not?” Mom asked.
“I don’t think they even have bathing suits,” Ben explained. “I’ve only seen Grandma Edna and Grandpa Reed in overalls and work clothes.”
“Don’t forget stethoscopes,” Willa added. She was proud of her grandmother, who worked as a veterinarian on Chincoteague Island. She taught Willa everything she knew about horses and all kinds of animals. So much that Willa wanted to be a vet when she grew up.
“Well, it’s about time my hardworking parents took a break,” Mom said. “And maybe it’s time we did too.”
“What do you mean, Mom?” Willa asked.
“Since we have no reservations at the bed-and-breakfast over Thanksgiving weekend,” Mom said with a smile, “your dad and I were thinking about taking a little family trip somewhere.”
“You were thinking, Amelia,” Dad pointed out. “I’d rather stick around Misty Inn in case guests drop by at the last minute.”
All Willa heard was the word “trip.” “A trip?” she asked excitedly. “You mean like Hawaii?”
“Bring on the surfing lessons,” Ben said, sputtering cracker crumbs.
“Sorry, Ben,” Mom said, shaking her head. “But the only thing you’ll be surfing over Thanksgiving is the Web.”
“Why?” Ben asked.
“The Hawaiian Islands are super far and we only have five days,” Mom explained. “By the time we get there, it’ll be time to fly home.”
“Washington, DC, is doable,” Dad suggested. “So is Philadelphia, and New York.”
“I’d like to see the White House and the Smithsonian Institution,” Willa said. “Let’s go to DC, please.”
“I vote for New York,” Ben said, his hand shooting up. “I want to see the crazy-tall buildings.”
“We used to live in Chicago, Ben,” Willa reminded him. “We saw crazy-tall buildings every day.”
“Then I want to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade,” Ben stated. “That’s in New York every year, isn’t it?”
Willa’s eyes lit up at the mention of the famous parade. Ever since she was four years old, she had watched it on TV. But watching the giant balloons, marching bands, and floats from the sidewalks in New York would be even better.
“New York sounds good,” Willa said.
Ben raced toward the door. “Start spreading the news,” he said. “I’m going upstairs to pack for New York City.”
“Whoa, Ben,” Dad called.
“It’s not definite yet,” Mom said, “so hold your horses.”
Whoa? Hold your horses?
The words made Willa blink hard. She wanted to take a family vacation, but there was someone much more important than New York or the parade. And she was waiting for Willa in the barn right now.
“Mom, Dad? What about Starbuck?” Willa asked about her pony. “Who’s going to care for her while we’re away?”
“I’m sure we can find someone responsible,” Mom said. “Someone who can feed New Cat and Amos, too.”
Willa knew feeding a cat and a puppy was hard work. But taking care of a horse was practically a science, like Grandma Edna always said.
“But I ride Starbuck every day,” Willa said. “I feed and groom her regularly too. She might get upset if I’m not here.”
“So we’re not going to New York City or the parade because of Starbuck?” Ben complained. “Seriously?”
Willa shot her brother a sharp glance. When Starbuck had showed up at Miller Farm with an injured leg, they had both helped Grandma Edna take care of her. But after Starbuck found her own way to Misty Inn, it was Willa who took charge—waking up early every morning to feed and groom Starbuck and coming home straight from school to ride her.
“Starbuck is my pony, Ben,” Willa said. “You don’t have a pony of your own, so what do you know about horses?”
“Wasn’t that a bit harsh, Willa?” Dad asked.
Willa felt her cheeks burn. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt Ben’s feelings. But taking back her words was like putting toothpaste back in the tube—almost impossible.
She was about to apologize when Mom piped in: “Kids, we don’t know for sure if we’re going anywhere, so let’s all take a breather.”
“Good idea,” Dad agreed. “And until we know for sure, I’m going to cook Thanksgiving dinner as always.”
“Eric, you’re what?” Mom asked with surprise.
“We have to be prepared, Amelia,” Dad said. “Any minute the phone can ring with Thanksgiving reservations—”
All four Dunlaps froze at the sound of the kitchen phone.
“Too weird,” Ben said.
“Totally,” Willa agreed.
Mom walked over to the ringing phone. “It’s Miller Farm,” she said, looking at the caller ID. “Your grandfather can’t stop talking about visiting Pearl Harbor soon.”
Answering the phone, Mom put it on speaker. It wasn’t Grandpa Reed, but Grandma Edna.
“Amelia, you’re not going to believe what’s happening,” Grandma Edna said. “Never in a million years.”
“Dad wants to sign you guys up for hula lessons,” Mom guessed.
“As if that’s going to happen.” Grandma Edna chuckled. “The last dance I learned was the twist.”
Ben wrinkled his nose. “The what?”
“Tell us what happened, Grandma Edna,” Willa called toward the phone. “Is it something to do with one of the animals?”
“No, honey,” Grandma Edna replied. “I just got a call from a friend who lives up the island.”
Grandma Edna paused a few seconds, then said, “There’s a wild pony in her apple orchard plucking apples right off her prizewinning apple tree.”
“A pony?” Willa said with surprise. Any news about a pony was huge. Especially when it was a wild pony like Starbuck.