Note: I wrote this review for Amazon, on January 18, 2009.
"War Horse" is a story of courage and endurance by horse and man, conveyed through the destruction that is war. Told from the viewpoint of the horse, the story can draw in the most reluctant reader, as children often feel more empathy for animals than people. Because of descriptions of grueling labor and unsound working conditions for the horses, the book is best directed toward fourth grade and up.
Joey, a gorgeous bay with four white stocking legs and a white cross on his forehead, is the War Horse. Albert is his 15-year-old human who trains and loves him. When his father sells the horse to the cavalry for service in World War I, Albert swears to join when he is old enough and find Joey.
The insanity of matching a cavalry of horses and riders with sabers against soldiers with rifles and machine guns has to be one of the most insane moments in war history!! One-fourth of the horses are killed in the first battle. All but two die in the next battle this cavalry faces. Joey and his equal, Topthorn, a huge black Arabian, survive, only to be taken as prisoners by the Germans.
What Joey and Topthorn face as part of the team to pull the hospital cart to the battle front over and over is made right by kind treatment their German masters give to their wounds and injuries, and treat their fatigue at the end of day. Joey's worse experience comes when he and Topthorn and others must pull the artillery. Because these soldiers are dead tired themselves and also starving, they are not as attentive to the horses.
The most horrifying scene occurs when Joey is totally alone and runs and runs from the sound of cannons until he is trapped in No Man's Land, a barren area between the French and English on one side and the Germans on the other. Two rolls of barbed wire separate the land from the trenches. Joey finds himself in this area. What transpires is an incredible and beautiful moment in the midst of an insane war.
SPOILER ALERT! Read no further if you don't like to know anything about a book's ending.)
Of course, you must know that Albert is re-united with Joey. How that comes about is purely contrived, but welcomed by a reader weary of the horrors of war for both man and horse.
Last week a fourth-grader asked me (I'm the school librarian) for a really good book to read. I showed him several. When he saw "War Horse," he wanted it at once. The next day he told me, "This is a great book." He was already half-way finished. So I went home and read my copy.
You will never look at a horse the same way again. Joey tells us about the people who tend him. Are they heavy-handed, hard, tender, kind, caring? What is it like with each type of person? What is it like to be a horse? But the best lesson is that horses are no longer used in battle (until a reader commented that horses are being used in Afghanistan! Barbarity in a barbaric place. What can one expect? Note: I'm speaking of war and war conditions, not the Afghan people or soldiers.)
Now the film version is getting rave reviews. I look forward to seeing it!
Books on my very ambitious TBR list (*denotes read)
- *Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- The Odd Women by George Gissing
- The Zen of Fish by Trevor Corson
- How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell
- The Cod Tale by Mark Kurlansky
- In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
- *Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
- Dag Hammarskjold by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
- The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet by Rabbi Michael L. Munk
- Children of Strangers by Lyle Saxon
- Spiritual Writings by Flannery O'Connor
- Nightmares and Visions: Flannery O'Connor and the Catholic Grotesque by Gilbert H. Muller
- The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
- Flannery O'Connor's South by Robert Coles
- Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
- Sylvanus Now by Donna Morrissey
- *Vincent de Paul by Margaret Ann Hubbard
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
- A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
- The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
- Readicide by Kelly Gallagher
- *Ruined by Paula Morris
- Say You're Not One of Them by Uwem Akpan
- Wandering Star by J.M.G. Le Clezio
- Silence by Shusaku Endo
- *The Assault by Harry Mulisch
- Kari's Saga by Robert Jansson
- *The German Mujahid by Boualem Sansal
- Western Skies by Joseph Conrad
- *The Giver by Lois Lowery
- *Imperium by Ryszard Kapuscinski