Rebecca Mead writes in the New Yorker about rereading My Friend Flicka as an adult and sharing it with her son:
One of the privileges of parenthood is re-reading beloved books from childhood with one’s own children, in spite of the sometimes pronounced stylistic gulf that exists between kid lit of earlier eras and that of today. (I doubt that, in the age of the Kindle free sample, Arthur Ransome would get away with a first chapter quite so replete with sailing arcana as he did, in 1930, with “Swallows and Amazons.”) But when I picked up “My Friend Flicka” again recently, to read it aloud to my ten-year-old son, I did so with some trepidation. What might the book, a realist family drama set in the American West of eighty-odd years ago, mean to a city child who, given a free rein, selects action-packed fantasy series—in all of which, it seems, a group of children, miraculously untethered from the influence of their parents, undergo adventures in a supernatural or dystopian-futuristic world, battling the forces of evil on behalf of the good? Besides that, how would “My Friend Flicka” read to a child whose exposure to horses is so limited that he doesn’t know a fetlock from a forelock?
So, yes: there is some unfamiliar horsey terminology—discussion of corrals, and sires, and lariats, and so on. (There’s also a rather gruesome chapter about the process of gelding, the discussion of which has made an interesting addendum to fifth-grade health class.) But the life of a child on a horse ranch is so wildly different from that of a child who rides the G train daily that the book’s realism—the spaciousness of Ken’s day-to-day existence—reads like fantasy. In the opening chapter, Ken has just returned to the ranch for the summer from boarding school, and is alone, on horseback, at dawn, surveying the land. “From here he looked west over a hundred miles of the greengrass; and south across the great stretch of undulating plateau land that ran down to Twin Peaks, and beyond that across broken crags and interminable rough terrain, mysterious with hidden valleys and gorges and rocky headlands.” When we got to the part of the book in which Ken and his brother Howard go out hunting rabbits—with their own guns—my son’s eyes widened with disbelief.
But the most compelling aspect of “My Friend Flicka” is not the external drama of Ken’s life, though there is plenty of that. (A mountain lion stalking the range looms as a perpetual threat to man and beast.) What makes it the perfect book for a boy on the cusp of puberty—particularly a dreamy, distracted, and imaginative boy on the cusp of puberty—is Ken’s inner drama. While the book is ostensibly about horses, its true subject is first love.