By Terri Schlichenmeyer
It was over in a blink.
You turned around, turned back, and it was done. Finished. You missed the best part, so keep your eyes peeled when you watch the horse races this spring. And in order to know what you’re watching, read the new book “D is for Derby ” by Helen L. Wilbur, illustrated by Jaime Corum.
Just two minutes.
That’s about how long it takes for the Kentucky Derby, from opening gate to finish. You probably can’t think of a quicker sport, because there probably isn’t one. And in this book, the very first letter of the alphabet stands for the very first Kentucky Derby winner, Aristides, a Thoroughbred horse ridden by an African American jockey. When Aristides raced in 1875, most jockeys were black, in fact.
You might wonder why Kentucky is “The Horse Capital of the World.” It’s because the state’s “limestone-rich soil” grows grass that gives the horses good bones and strong muscles. B is for Bluegrass , which is what it’s called because the buds of the grass have a bluish tint.
Those powerful horses need people to care for them, so G is for Groom, which is the person who brushes the horse, works with him, gives him baths, and makes sure he’s “happy, healthy, handsome, and ready to race.” Of course, no horse can race without a jockey in the saddle, so J is for Jockey.
Long before the horses get to the opening gate, there’s a great celebration in Louisville . D is for Derby Festival, which includes boats, parades, fireworks, and concerts. Everyone’s excited and, on race day, they gather by the spires. The Derby attracts celebrities and royalty; even Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip have attended, which is why Q is for Queen. And wouldn’t you know that H is for Hat because wearing wild, colorful hats is a Derby tradition for women, just as wearing splashy ties and flashy clothing is tradition for men who attend the festivities.
But then comes the most important part of the day: the race. The horses line up, their owners hoping for the Triple Crown: P is for Preakness, and together with the Derby and the Belmont Stakes, it could mean a big win!
So you’ve got a couple of horse lovers around, but they want different things from the books they read. And that’s why you’ll love giving them “D is for Derby .”
Author Helen L. Wilbur wrote this book to appeal to two age groups on the same page: children who enjoy a good picture book and need the basics; and older readers who want solid information and a chance to really understand horse racing. Add in amazingly lifelike illustrations by Jaime Corum (my favorite part!) and you’ve got something that kids will enjoy and that adults won’t mind reading, too.
For racing season, this is a perfect grow-with-your-child book – but beware that it’s not for those weekends alone. Hand your 3-to-13-year-olds “D is for Derby” now, and they’ll want to read it over and over.
The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.