Polio survivor Velma Bronn Johnston, known as Wild Horse Annie, fights to save mustang horses from slaughter.
Since she was “just a speck of a girl,” Annie has loved the mustangs on her family’s Nevada ranch. After Annie contracts polio at age 11, emerging with a bent spine and twisted face, she dreams of galloping with wild herds. But by the time Annie gets married and starts her own ranch, the herds have been killed by cattle ranchers and hunters. In folksy language matching Annie’s quoted quips, Fern recounts Annie’s campaigns to protect mustangs first locally, then federally. Refusing to “hush up” and unfazed by threats, Annie sends hundreds of letters and addresses government officials even though speaking in public makes her feel like “a cat on a hot frying pan.” Finally, help from her “secret weapon”—an enthusiastic letter-writing, fundraising “pencil brigade” of schoolchildren—leads to the 1971 passage of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Salerno’s sun-drenched illustrations capture the equally hardy spirits of the mustangs and Annie herself. Though the author acknowledges Annie’s disfigurement, chronic pain, and self-consciousness, Annie’s most prominent features are alternately her stubbornly scowling eyebrows and wide, warm grin. An author’s note provides further background on mustangs and Johnston’s pioneering efforts. Annie and her husband are white; the children’s complexions vary.
An uplifting tale of animal rights, perseverance, and kids’ power to make a difference. (bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)