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War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo is told from the point of view of the horse, who is sold at auction to a drunken farmer and is written for a younger audience, grades 5-8.  In this coming of age story, the young boy Albert Narracott and his Red Bay Joey grow up together and the bond they create lasts through a number of obstacles.  Joey is sold and is off to war — The Great War — to work as a cavalry horse.  Like soldiers in war, Joey must learn maneuvers and be conditioned to fight, which really translates into unlearning farm work and learning how to get his rider safely through the enemy lines.  Morpurgo takes Joey and his readers on a harrowing journey through France where much of the battles take place, and like soldiers, horses were captured as prisoners of war.

“All around me, men cried and fell to the ground, and horses reared and screamed in an agony of fear and pain.  The ground erupted on either side of me, throwing horses and riders clear into the air.  The shells whined and roared overhead, and every explosion soon seemed like an earthquake to us.  But the squadron galloped on inexorably through it all toward the wire at the top of the hill, and I went with them.”  (page 59)

The anthropomorphism of Joey is stunning in this novel.  Morpurgo really understands how to create an animal character who seems more like a human being.  Joey struggles with war fatigue, fear, loss, and a whole set of other emotions, but while away from Albert, he holds onto the love and comfort of his farm life.  Along the way he is treated well and mistreated.

“I found Topthorn was always by me and would breathe his courage into me to support me.  It was a slow baptism of fire for me, but without Topthorn I think I should never have become accustomed to the guns, for the fury and the violence of the thunder as we came ever nearer to the front line seemed to sap my strength as well as my spirits.” (page 44)

What more could readers ask for in a young readers novel about WWI?  A champion horse who earns an Iron Cross and saves his riders from certain death, but who fears and loves just as the young boy he knew did, just as everyone does.  Joey is a hero in more ways than one, and his courage is something that all young readers could learn from, especially how Joey overcomes his fear of strange lands and people.  Additionally, he strives to do his best even when he doesn’t want to do what the humans have him doing and even though it is painful to go on without food and shelter.  Survival is paramount, and Joey not only looks out for himself and his riders, but he befriends and cares for other horses in the regiments.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo is stunning and engages readers early on in the struggles of a young horse who is taken from his home and thrust into WWI in 1914.  There are images of war, but there is nothing too gruesome that parents should worry about young readers.  On more than one occasion, readers will be moved, and chests will be full of emotion and tears will well in their eyes as Joey relates his story.  A great way to learn about the harrows of war without delving too deeply into the politics or military strategy, while at the same time demonstrating its far reaching impacts on non-military personnel, soldiers, and horses.

This is my 1st book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 1st book for the WWI Reading Challenge.

 

  • Amy

    This is a fantastic review, Serena. War Horse sounds like an amazing and engaging book. Mchael Morpurgo is obviously extremely talented to be able to write such a good book from the point of view of the horse, Joey. I’m certainly going to look at this book next time I’m in a bookstore. It sounds like parts of it may be very emotional and sad. I’m not sure I’m up to reading thta although Joey’s courage intrigues me and he ends up in a good place. I’ll have to think about this.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this terrific book!

    • Amy thanks for checking out the review. I really loved this book and he does a good job of taking the story from the horse’s point of view. I really loved the emotional roller coaster this puts the reader on.

  • Tonya

    Oh, this looks really good. Thank you!

    • I hope you check it out. I really enjoyed it.

  • I didn’t even realize the movie was based on a book. I will have to read it! I’m not a horse person, but I think I’ll like both of them anyway.

  • I just popped in to say that my library has this one on audio so I’m going to give it a listen.

  • Dawn – She Is Too Fond of Books

    I was wondering if this was the book the movie was based on … the previous comments answered my question 🙂 Thanks for this review, Serena, I’m going to see if my 9 yr old is interested in reading WAR HORSE.

    The logo for the WWI Challenge is lovely, by the way, with the field of poppies.

    • I really liked the book. I can’t wait to see the movie to compare them.

  • This was my first read of the year, too. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that thrilled with it. But I do have very high hopes for the movie! I’m saving my book review till I can see the movie…hopefully some time this year, lol.

    • I’m sorry you didn’t like it as much as I did. I have a soft spot for horse stories since Black Beauty, I think.

  • Your review has definitely tempted me. It sounds like a very powerful book.

  • This sounds so good – I’m sure I’d cry if I read it.

    • It did make me tear up on more than one occasion.

  • Nice review Serena! This does sound like a good book for young readers and even the older ones.

    • I really liked it and recommend it for WWI reading challenge.

  • This sounds so good! We want to see the movie!

    • I want to see the movie too. I really enjoyed this little book. I’m going to save it for Wiggles.

  • I think The Girl and I will love this book. I hope you’ll let us borrow it next time I see you. 😉

    • I really liked this one. I’m so glad I bought it. I’m going to save it for Wiggles