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War Horse    by Michael Morpurgo order for
War Horse
by Michael Morpurgo
Order:  USA  Can
Scholastic, 2011 (2007)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The Author's Note begins: 'In the old school they use now for the Village Hall, below the clock ... hangs a small dusty painting of a horse ... a splendid red bay with a remarkable white cross emblazoned on his forehead and with four perfectly matched white socks.' The picture is of 'JOEY. /PAINTED BY CAPTAIN JAMES NICHOLLS, AUTUMN 1914 ... fewer as each year goes by, remember Joey ... His story is written so that neither he nor those who knew him, nor the war they lived and died in, will be forgotten.'

The story is narrated by the colt guided by Michael Morpurgo's hand. The day of the horse sale, a six months old colt will glance at his mother for the last time as each is auctioned to different farms. The half-thoroughbred colt is brought to his owner's farm in Devon. There he meets young Albert who names him Joey, in tune with the name of the farm's old mare Zoey. Summer and winter, Albert diligently cares for Joey, talking to him in a gentle voice, running the meadows, and calling with a specific whistle sound just for Joey. They hear of war threatening, but to them it seems another world. Comes a day when Albert needs to train Joey to be a farm horse, plowing the terrain, or else father threatens to sell Joey.

As the threat of war comes nearer to Devon, father realizes that he must sell Joey to pay the mortgage on the farm, or lose it. After an A-1 inspection by the military veterinarian, Captain Nicholls buys Joey. Albert attempts to convince the Captain that he is old enough at fifteen to join up. But he must wait a few more years. The kind military man promises to do what he can 'to protect Joey', and the cavalry mount training begins. En route to France, Joey is befriended by another captain's horse, Topthorn. After disembarking they pass row after row of wounded. Soon Joey hears '"Squadron, right shoulder!" came the command, and we walked abreast into the woods ... I heard the death rattle of a machine gun ... and then quite suddenly I found I had no rider.'

Next Joey and Topthorn are in the hands of the Germans, who treat the steeds as lovingly as the English owners. Both horses follow their roles as heroes in the spotlight, as they are hitched to ambulance carts to transport the wounded, to the cheers of marching soldiers. A time arrives when Joey and Topthorn are given to young Emilie and her grandfather to graze in the meadows and assist with farm work. They are doted on by Emilie. As the winds of War change again, German soldiers arrive to take Joey and Topthorn to tow ammunition carts. Joey finds himself in no man's land between trenches. His thoughts continue to return to Albert, and he wonders will he hear the young man's whistle ever again?

U.K. Children's Laureate Michael Morpurgo's War Horse eloquently portrays a story of endurance, courage, destruction, and the death of horses and men, as readers garner perceptions of World War I. In an interview, Michael is asked: 'Why do you often write about animals in your books?' He responds: 'I think it may have something to do with the fact that animals are a good way into a story, especially for children. Animals don't judge like adults, they are accepting and will just listen.' War Horse is a book for all readers and ages. I read with a lump in my throat, and an upbeat heart.

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