I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
This was a favourite book from my childhood--I borrowed it a number of times from our school library. When I discovered that our university library had a copy, I was excited to have a chance to re-read as an adult and see what had so captivated my younger self. I was pleased that the book retained its charm all these years later.
Set in the province of British Columbia, Canada, the protagonist is an orphaned boy, Mark, sent to live with his aunt and uncle. In his new school, he befriends a girl named Giselle. Her father has mysteriously gone missing, following a hunting trip during which Giselle suspects that he was trying to capture the beautiful and mysterious Sun Horse, which local legends identify as living in Forgotten Valley in the mountains.
Of course, Mark and Giselle decide that they are going to find and bring home Giselle's father. Their adventures include making friends with a bat (whom Giselle is surprised to find she can communicate with telepathically), meeting the Marsh Witch who takes care of the swans and runs around the marsh on her stilts, and asking for assistance from the local Indian tribe.
The Marsh Witch is particularly fun--she uses cobwebs and captured dreams to make sky ropes which can lasso clouds. She then climbs the ropes and rides the clouds to see what is going on in the valley. Although she looks scary in the beginning, the children discover that she is really a caring woman and a great ally.
I was also pleased at the positive depiction of the Native people in the book. They seem much more reasonable than some of the caucasian people the children encounter. Their chief is also the owner of the fabulous Sun Horse. They know what's going on and are willing to share their knowledge with those who have honourable reasons for searching.
Today's children would no doubt find this book quaint or boring, with it's emphasis on the hard work being done by both adults and children on the frontier. But it has great messages of co-operation between cultures, respect for the natural world and not judging people by their appearances. I'm sure my younger self was mostly besotted by all the horses in the book, but I'm glad these positive messages were also there to be absorbed along with the horsey aspects.
It's a shame it is out of print and so difficult to locate. Copyright 1951.