The "world's playground" of 1930s Atlantic City is as much a character in The Girl on the High-Diving Horse as Ivy Cordelia, the young heroine who gets her chance to dive-dive-dive from the high platform on the Steel Pier into the deep-deep-deep pool, holding on to Arnette French, a "crazy-brave" diving horse girl. Wow-wow-wow! That adventure alone is worth the read.
Linda Oatman High's wonderful story is part history, part adventure and all-engaging. As Ivy Cordelia and her photographer father spend the summer at a castle-shaped hotel on the boardwalk, they ride the rolling chair to the Steel Pier, where well-dressed crowds are entertained by the card-playing cats, the boxing kangaroos and the human cannonballs. Ivy has entered another world! She is most entranced, however, by the high-diving horses and their riders, and she watches as "an enormous white horse sprints fast up a steep slanting ramp, hooves hammering and his flashing dark eyes sparking stars of fire." Oh, to be the girl on that horse!
Artist Ted Lewin has painted Ivy's longing in a poignant wash of color and emotion. His depiction of Atlantic City in the 1930s and '40s is nothing short of stunning. Mimicking the style of linen postcards that were so popular during that time, Lewin first executed his pictures in black-and-white, then applied thin washes of a limited number of colors, thereby transporting us into another time a pastel, spirited world of purple early mornings and salt-water taffy afternoons, wide open skies and endless sea-sprays of lightness and possibility.
Extensive author and illustrator notes accompany the text and further enhance the story. Details in "postcards" throughout the book impart a feeling of nostalgia and . . . love! Love for a time gone by, love of a father for a daughter, love of the ocean piers, boardwalks, haberdashers, fortune tellers and daredevil stunts that defined the city by the sea.
Step right up!
Deborah Wiles is the author of Freedom Summer; Love, Ruby Lavender and the forthcoming One Wide Sky (Harcourt).