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Old horse gives lonely Clarence a lift

CLARENCE GOES OUT WEST AND MEETS A PURPLE HORSE; by Jean Ekman Adams; Rising Moon Publications, $15.95. Winner of the Children's Division, Mountain and Plains Booksellers Award

Clarence is going out West to stay at a ranch. He excitedly packs the necessities for the bus ride: food, 10-gallon hat, food, camera, clothes and more food.

"The West is very big — lots of mountains and lots of sky!" The bus ride is great, but when Clarence arrives at the ranch, he is too late for dinner, he doesn't know anybody, and he realizes he forgot his favorite pillow. Clarence is homesick and can't sleep, even though he has the comfort of his cloud hat.

In the morning, things look better after a breakfast of good ranch food. Clarence feels bouncy. The horses ("Their legs look like tree trunks") are very tall, and one of them, Smoky, introduces himself as his riding guide for the week.

Clarence and Smoky become fast friends. They go to the top of a mountain, snap pictures and have a siesta in the bottom of a canyon. They line-dance and join a card game. On Saturday, Clarence learns to play the washtub in a cowboy band. They particularly like to read stories together.

Smoky tells Clarence that he is being sold because he is very old. "I don't know where old horses go." But Clarence must know because he takes all his return bus money and buys Smoky from the ranch. Their journey home will take longer than the bus ride — perhaps even years — but it will be good to have his friend. Maybe Clarence won't need his pillow, after all.

The energy in Adams' art work is not only invigorating but playful and offers touches of humor that will delight the young reader. Pink-toed Clarence, in pajamas with button askew, is a typical first-time ranch vacationer. He carries a suitcase of impossibilities — coat hangers and food beyond belief — and no notion of what the guest at a ranch should or will do. Even though he had planned well, or so he thought, he hasn't a clue! It is the big clumsy purple horse who takes the novice under his hoof and makes the vacation a complete success.

Adams has added touches that delight the funny bone: denim jackets, serapes and orange horse-size pajamas with a groundhog design. The distant mountains, blue and shadowed with touches of cactus and lots of desert, make the setting as expansive as the friendship that develops there.

Jean Ekman Adams lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz., and has exhibited her artwork widely. This is her first picture book, which is based on a series of drawings she made about the unlikely friendship of a pig from the city and a country horse named Smokey. (Actually, the character, Smoky, is based on a real horse that was rescued because it was "too old.")

Much of Adams' art training came with the help of her artist father, Stan Ekman, who encouraged her to develop her talents. Her study at Arizona State University was the beginning of an art career.

Rising Moon Publications of Flagstaff, Ariz., is a children's division of the 40-year-old Northland Publishing, whose primary focus is books about the American West. Rising Moon grew from a love of the Southwest and has evolved to include universal themes that appeal to all of the world's children.

The Mountain and Plains Booksellers (made up of bookstores from the Rocky Mountain and Plains states) awarded their prestigious award for the best children's book to Adams at their annual convention Saturday, March 24, in Sante Fe, N.M. The award was presented by Betsy Burton, King's English Bookstore, Salt Lake City.