When we celebrated my birthday last month, I opened one daughter’s gift and found a book tucked in it alongside her present. I couldn’t keep the book, she explained, but I had to read it. I’d love it, she said.

She was right.

From the way Marguerite Henry describes the sandy beaches of Assateague Island to the beauty and fury of the island’s wild horses, I loved everything about Misty of Chincoteague. Paul and Maureen Beebe live on Chincoteague Island, where they train and sell wild horses with their grandparents (I’d argue those grandparents are among some of the most lovable in children’s literature).

Every year, riders from Chincoteague venture to neighboring Assateague Island, where they round up some of the island’s wild horses and bring them back to Chincoteague to sell. This year, it’s finally Paul’s turn to join the “pony penning,” and he and Maureen have their hearts set on not just any horse, but the wild and elusive Phantom—a mare known for escaping the riders year after year.

Misty of Chincoteague (Series), by Marguerite Henry | Little Book, Big Story

That’s the premise of Misty of Chincoteague, and the series just gets better from there. Marguerite Henry fills each book with physical details so vivid you feel you’re running on the sand, in the sea spray with Paul and Maureen. Chinoteague and Assateague Islands are as much characters in the story as the Phantom, or Misty, or the Beebes themselves.

Though I loved the first two books, the third, Stormy, Misty’s Foal, was my favorite. In it, Chincoteague faces a devastating storm. Henry doesn’t skim over the sense of loss and sorrow a storm like that leaves in its wake, but the story itself is hopeful, and as we read it during the first few weeks of quarantine, my daughter and I took comfort in watching the Beebes emerge from such a severe trial unbroken and hopeful.

Misty of Chincoteague (Series), by Marguerite Henry | Little Book, Big Story

I will include one note about the last book, Misty’s Twilight. My daughter enjoyed this one, so I can’t fully toss it out, but the fourth and final book in the series was written thirty years after the others. Most of it isn’t set on Chincoteague (a loss) and doesn’t have a Beebe in it anywhere (a greater loss). The protagonist isn’t a relatable child, but a grown woman whose horses feature more prominently in the story than her kids do.

But the greatest loss, I think, is that rather than setting us on the ground alongside the characters, where we experience things as they do, the narrator of this book hovers somewhere above the characters, so we’re only allowed to watch the characters act out the story without so much as a whiff of salt water for us. For what it’s worth, I think you could stop reading after the third book and not miss a thing.

But the first three books aren’t to be missed. They would make the best sort of summer reading, for you or your kids.

Misty of Chincoteague
Marguerite Henry (1947)

Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague
Marguerite Henry (1949)

Stormy, Misty’s Foal
Marguerite Henry (1963)