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Tiddlywinks, The Little Horse With Three Ears: A Picture Book Inspires Young Authors

Years ago, before “coexist” appeared on bumper stickers, Rex B. Valentine, a beloved folk poet and author in our own neck of the woods, wrote a picture book for children ages four to eleven, Tiddlywinks, the Little Horse With Three Ears.

Valentine, the father of a large family, wanted to teach children to love and accept people who are different from those around them. The story of the horse Tiddlywinks became an immediate hit with our young children. They loved it so much, that they created their own version of Tiddlywinks. What better proof can there be of a successful story?

Tiddlywinks has all the characteristics of an American folktale. It is teaching an important lesson. It has the feel of a story told around the hearth by a person we know. The folk element is enhanced by the lovely, naïve-style illustrations by Casey Scarborough. The setting is the world around us which is, perhaps, what constitutes the

difference between folk tale and fairy tale. I know it is impossible to fit good stories into neat categories, but this makes sense to me at this moment. Tiddlywinks takes place in our familiar American West, not the Wild West but a civilized rural place. There are no castles, knights or dragons, and no magic. There is a farm and a horse auction instead. Kids feel comfortably at home.

And yet, there is excitement in this story. It comes from moral outrage. Tiddlywinks is unfairly abused by his owner and his fellow horses - because he happens to have three ears! Kids know this is wrong, even if they may sometimes be guilty of same behavior themselves. Then, someone they can completely identify with, an ordinary boy called Johnny who longs to have a horse of his own, saves Tiddlywinks and befriends him. At this point, we have a satisfactory story for little ones as you will see below. However, the tale continues and gets even better. Johnny and Tiddlywinks save a lost little boy and become heroes. The outcasts are accepted in the community. The moral order is restored. Kids love such an ending.

Thank you, Rex Valentine. Your modern folktale is a wonderful vehicle of our Christian culture. It condemns vice and rewards virtue. As humble as it seems, this book is extremely important. There is a very different message to be found in the bulk of picture books published.

Tiddlywinks, the Little Horse With Three Ears is available from

The teaching embedded in this story becomes even more powerful, when reinforced by the young reader turning storyteller. Take a look at a treasure I found in our family’s "Story Box". Two sisters created their own book on a rainy day without television. Obviously, they did not want to plagiarize. They used a different name for the horse and gave it four ears. They also found the plot too long and realized that the “happily ever after” could satisfactorily occur after "Jumper" had been bought by his boy. Enjoy!

Fun Fact: One of the young authors of Jumper, the Horse With Four Ears has become a writer. She has recently published her first book, the teen fantasy novel Adrastea, Book One In The Annals Of Orbis, which carries the same message in a more complex story.

Jumper, The Horse With Four Ears by Anna (Anastasia) and Irene Vincent


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