Kentucky Derby Book List: A Bakers Dozen

Calling all horse lovers!

The Kentucky Derby runs this Saturday like it does every first Saturday of May. Will there be another Triple Crown winner this year? Will an underdog horse come from nowhere to win? Or, perhaps we will discover new hat fashions for women?

My family watches the Kentucky Derby on TV every year with festive food and drink in hand (we love us some Kentucky Hot Browns and Derby Pie!). But I credit the books I read about horses as a child with stoking that initial desire; even when the horse in the book didn’t actually go to the Derby, the Derby still seemed to encapsulate the mark of true horse greatness. I just knew the Black Stallion would win the Derby if he was there. Or Misty of Chincoteague.

Kentucky Derby BookList

Enjoy these horse books for both boys and girls of all ages (some of which feature the actual Kentucky Derby and some of which merely celebrate horses). Titles linked to RR reviews where applicable. If you have bonafide young horse lovers in your house already, try an amazon search for “horse picture books” and you’ll find some great nonfiction gems and a coloring books or two.

[Parent pro-tip: do not search for “cowboys” or even “horse books for boys” without some age parameters in place; there are a slew of romance novels with steamy covers that are cowboy related. This is just as true of your local public library as it is for amazon.] (Amazon links on RR are affiliate links–thanks for supporting the site!)

Picture Books and Easy Readers

Cowboy Small by Lois Lenski. A retro picture book now available in board book format, the Papa Small books are delights. Every young cowboy should see this one. Picture book, ages 0-8.

Dust Devil by Anne Isaacs and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. The legend of the Swamp Angel continues in this tall tale about a bigger-than-life girl and her equally bigger-than-life horse. Tremendous fun. Picture book, ages 4-8.

The Mare on the Hill by Thomas Locker. Almost a picture book version of Misty of Chincoteague in that siblings get to know a mare and her foal. Richly illustrated. Picture book, ages 4-10.

Cowgirl Kate and Cocoa by Erica Silverman and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. A fun twist on the easy reader motif of person + animal best friend, Cowgirl Kate and her horse, Cocoa, have all sorts of adventures. Note: we haven’t read every book in the series; as always, read discerningly. Easy reader, ages 4-8.

Billy and Blaze by C. W. Anderson. Another classic series, the Billy and Blaze books are perfect for that short season when kids are ready to move on from the simple words in easy readers but not quite ready to tackle a true chapter book. “Easy readers,” ages 4-10.

Middle Grades

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley. Hard work, grit, adventure, and the bond between horse and boy make this a good read still today. The first book is better than the rest of the series and is fantastic in audio format. Middle grades/ages 8-12.

Misty of Chincoteague and others by Marguerite Henry. The undisputed master of horse stories for elementary-aged kids, Henry’s books are still beloved by many. Middle grades, ages 8-12 (but younger kids can listen in just fine!).

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. “The” classic horse story. Middle grades, ages 8-12.

The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis. A fantastic adventure in Narnia with some of the best scenes/examples of “Aslan’s” sovereignty of any of the books. Middle grades, ages 8-12.

My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara. A boy and his horse, growing up and maturing together in true Western style. Another horse classic. Middle grades, ages 8-12. Don’t forget about other middle grades pioneer/Western stories that also have lots of “horse sense” to them: the Little House Books, the Little Britches books, and Caddie Woodlawn.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. A horse’s perspective on WWI. Worth reading and, of course, better than the movie! Middle grades, ages 8-12.

Seabiscuit: Two Options!

Come on, Seabiscuit! by Ralph Moody. Seabiscuit is the classic American story of rising up from obscurity to greatness through hard work and sheer talent–and it’s a true story! And there is horse racing aplenty in his story. Delightful in audio and more family friendly than the Seabiscuit title after this. Middle grades, ages 8-12.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. Yep, the same Hillenbrand that wrote Unbroken wrote a gripping narrative about this amazing little horse. Teen/young adult/adult (note: the life of a jockey often involved less-than-savory living including drinking, gambling, and prostitution. Seabiscuit’s jockey was not immune although the book doesn’t celebrate these–rather, they are evidence of his hard life and poor decisions. The book is a great read, all in all.)

There are millions of horse books out there–what favorites of yours have we missed? Let us know in the comments!


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Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Northwest.


  1. Meredith on May 4, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    I love this list of horse books, and the Kentucky Derby is one of my favorite sporting events on television every year. I love how you can hear the horses pounding down the track! It’s very exciting.

    I love The Black Stallion and The Horse and His Boy. Recently, I read a book called, The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, by Megan Shepherd. It is a story set during World War II in England. The main character is in a hospital because she is suffering from TB. Reality and fantasy merge as the young girl discovers that a winged horse resides in the hospital’s garden. The story is dark in places, but the horse descriptions are beautiful, and the story has a hopeful message of sacrifice. God bless you, and enjoy the Derby.

    • Betsy on May 4, 2017 at 1:36 pm

      Thanks for adding to our list, Meredith!

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