A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn a lot about life in England during World War II. They'll learn a little about Dunkirk and about the campaign and ultimate Allied triumph in North Africa. They'll learn about how children were evacuated from London during the Blitz and some details about village life in the countryside. They'll learn about coal mining, both the hardships and dangers endured by the miners and how horses (called pit ponies) were used in mining. Of course they'll also learn a lot about horses in general, most particularly how to care for them and bond with them. The author's note in the back has a bit more information about Exmoor ponies and how they were nearly brought to extinction during the war, about the massacre at Wormhout, a brief history of the Victoria Cross medal, and some further information about pit ponies.
Courage is the mastery of fear, not the absence of it. Moral courage is a lot rarer and more difficult than physical courage: It takes a great deal of courage to go against the mainstream, but that's the kind of courage you need to live a good life.
Positive Role Models
Dodo and Wolfie, brother and sister, are loyal to each other, to their father, and to the family that takes them in during the war. They work hard, they're uncomplaining in the face of hardship, and they're tremendously patient and brave. In letters while he's away, their father gives them sound advice about growing up woven subtly into advice to Wolfie about how to take care of Hero. Although he's absent during the war, his story is an excellent model of both physical and moral courage, and before the war he worked trying to change conditions for the coal miners. Hettie and her father, who take the children in during the war, are kind humanitarians who keep the children with them for the entire course of the war, giving them loving support and comfort and modeling non-judgmental acceptance of others.
Violence & Scariness
There's very little violence, and what there is comes mainly from accidents and isn't gory. But there's a lot of excitement, peril, and the heartbreaking loss of a pet. A girl and a horse get stuck in a bog. An explosion in a mine includes a long sequence with descriptions of danger and injuries as survivors look for escape. It's mentioned that many lives were lost in the explosion, and the grief experienced by the families of those lost is described briefly. There's a lot of peril when Dodo and Wolfie are surrounded by fire on the moor, and pain from a broken arm is described. A dead horse is briefly described. Some wartime violence is mentioned, including scary air raids, and the massacre at Wormhout is mentioned several times -- it's a key, if distant, event -- and described in greater detail in the author's note. Poaching wild ponies is mentioned, and it's speculated that they're taken for food. Blood is used in simile and metaphor a few times.
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Products & Purchases
The few products mentioned, once each, probably won't resonate with young readers: Slam chocolate bar, Primus stove, and Bakelite.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mr. Revel writes from prison that "exercise is as good as a dram of whiskey." An adult is mentioned as spilling whiskey. Ale tents at fairs and pubs are mentioned a few times in passing. Brandy and whiskey are given to the injured as restoratives.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that A Horse Called Hero has it all. There's heartbreaking loss (of a beloved pet), danger, and excitement. There's also love, joy, and beauty not only in the lives of the characters but in the writing itself. The young children are separated from their father by World War II, but they correspond with him. There's no gore, although a dead animal is described briefly. The few incidents of violence are from accidents, not between people. Characters are sometimes in great danger, and painful injuries are described briefly a few times. Positive messages abound as the brother and sister protagonists learn through raising a horse how to be good and brave, which will inspire readers of all ages to be the same.
Is It Any Good?
A HORSE CALLED HERO is a gorgeous, epic tale. The poetic language takes the reader through every emotion, from excitement and joy to fear and heartbreak. There's exciting action and danger, gut-wrenching loss, joy, and triumph -- all handled with a deft, expert touch that never becomes overwrought.
Wolfie and Dodo are a compelling brother-and-sister team. The narration weaves seamlessly between their points of view, and readers will admire the way they cope with everything life throws their way. Not only for horse lovers or World War II buffs, this beautiful story has an unflinching emotional range that brings a unique time and place in history to life. It's sure to become a beloved favorite of everyone lucky enough to read it.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.