"Mommy, Mommy, look, it's Misty!!!"

Shrill voices split the air at the Washington International Horse Show as preteens converged on their idol: a slightly rotund -- actually, she's pregnant -- brown and white pony.

Hordes of little girls and a few boys surrounded the patient animal, and, slightly shyly, reached out to pet her nose as their admiring mothers took pictures.

"Can I have a hoof print?" they asked, holding out their battered copies of Marguerite Henry's 1947 children's book "Misty of Chincoteague."

Young girls have always had their heroes -- the Beatles, Menudo, New Kids on the Block -- but Misty has outlasted them all. Henry's book has sold nearly 1.5 million copies, and the little girls who grew up on the story of Paul and Maureen Beebe, the Chincoteague Island children who "gentled" a wild pony, now have children of their own.

"I read the book, and I got all excited when we heard she was going to be {at the horse show}," said Jean Garrett, of Dumfries, who accompanied her daughter's Girl Scout troop to the Saturday show at Capital Centre. "The moms are so involved in the book that we pushed it on the little girls."

More than 15 years after the original Misty died, her granddaughter and namesake Misty II is on tour, as her owners try to raise $600,000 to buy what is left of the Beebe family ranch on Chincoteague Island, just off Virginia's Eastern Shore, and turn it into a museum. In part because of Henry's series of Misty books, the island has become a popular vacation spot, and developers are eyeing the land -- a total of 11 acres are left of the ranch's original 150 -- for condominiums.

"It's our dream that someday the ranch will be restored, and we'll be able to send Misty's descendants back there," said Kendy Allen, of Manheim, Pa., who owns Misty II with her husband and three children. "We feel like we're the luckiest people in the world, and we want to share Misty."

The drive to save the Beebe ranch is the brainchild of a 12-year-old Annandale girl, Rebecca Giusti, who read last year that the property had fallen on hard times.

"It really upset me ... so I started writing to congressmen and Mrs. Henry ... and people started writing back," Rebecca said. Next thing she knew, the Charlottesville-based Misty of Chincoteague Foundation had been formed, with Henry as its president, and school and public librarians were gathering "Pennies for Ponies" from children who read Henry's books.

So far, the foundation has raised close to $30,000, said Peter A. Stone, the group's secretary.

"The book goes on and on, and sells more in its later years than it did in the beginning," said Henry in a telephone interview from her California home. "Nothing could surprise me more."

Henry, who doesn't tell her age because "nobody guesses it," has just finished a fourth book in the Misty series, "Misty's Twilight," which tells the story of another Misty granddaughter, who lives in Ocala, Fla. "Sea Star, Orphan of Chincoteague" and "Stormy, Misty's Foal" were the second and third books in the series.

No one has been more involved in the fund drive than the Allens, who own the only Misty descendant who shares the distinctive markings of the first Misty -- a white splotch that looks like a slightly distorted map of the United States.

The Allens spend their own time and money taking Misty II -- the daughter of Stormy -- to horse shows and elementary schools and selling T-shirts for the project.

"A lot of people call up to see her," says Kerra Allen, the articulate and very patient 9-year-old who rides Misty II in 4-H horse shows and holds her pony still while other little girls press around her asking all kinds of questions.

"Does she have any babies?" Three, and a fourth is due in April.

"How old is she?" Sixteen, and the Allens have owned her for three years.

Seeing Misty II "gives you the feeling {the story} is true," said Annandale resident Britt Roe, 10, who was visiting the horse show to earn her "horse-lover" Girl Scout badge. "Most people don't believe that Misty is real, but she is."

Although the crowds can be frightening and claustrophobic, Kerra takes it all in stride.

"It's an incredible miracle that we have a horse like her. ... I always had a dream of owning a Misty descendant," she said.