A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This novel offers a horse's eye view of World War I. Readers will learn some of the jobs horses performed for the military (pulling heavy artillery, pulling ambulance carts, taking riders into battle). The novel also teaches some basic War facts: battles were fought in France; English and American soldiers fought against Germans. Proper care and treatment of horses are also explained to some extent.
War Horse is simply anti-war and pro-horse. Events are told by a sensitive animal, albeit one with limited understanding of human machinations; this seems to highlight the senselessness of the destruction. Joey the horse doesn't understand why men are killing each other, and neither does the reader. The bond between horse and master is sweet and profound, and a love of animals shows the commonality between people on both sides of the conflict.
Positive Role Models
Humans in this novel are very much divided between those who show kindness and respect to horses and those who use and mistreat them. Captain Nicholls, who first takes Joey into battle, is an intelligent horseman who uses finesse rather than force with Joey. Young Emilie and her grandfather give Joey and his friend Topthorn a safe haven and nourishment. Joey's true master, Albert, devotes himself to protecting the horse he raised.
Violence & Scariness
This book's simple vocabulary makes it accessible to kids from age 10, but there is a good deal of violence and death in War Horse. It would be unrealistic if a novel whose action happens largely in the thick of battle didn't include injuries and death, but horse lovers should be forewarned. Horses are occasionally mistreated by their humans before war breaks out; during battle, horses are maimed and killed. Living conditions are brutal for the horses, and some die when their systems weaken due to exposure and poor nourishment. In one scene, some horses are auctioned off to a butcher. Humans also are wounded and killed, though human injuries are described with less detail than the horses'. In addition, in Albert's world on the farm in Devon, his father becomes aggressive and verbally abusive when he drinks.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Albert's father, troubled by his inability to keep his farm financially sound, drinks to excess weekly. He is normally a loving husband and father, but when he drinks he abuses his loved ones verbally, and mistreats Joey the horse.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that War Horse uses simple language, meant to display the limited awareness of its animal narrator, to tell a poignant story with a strong anti-war message. Like Joey the horse, many of the casualties in this World War I novel understand little about why the battles are fought and lives are lost. To Joey, the fighting is cacophonous, chaotic, and random -- an eloquent statement about the pointlessness of the violence. Horse lovers will sometimes be upset by War Horse, but they will also be moved by the kindness shown to Joey and the horse's deep bond with his young master, Albert. The film version of this novel, also titled War Horse and directed by Steven Spielberg, will open Christmas Day 2011.
Is It Any Good?
War Horse holds special appeal for horse lovers, who will care deeply about Joey's plight as he is pushed and pulled between the humans fighting World War I. The novel offers a unique perspective on the hardships endured by war horses, and the emotional and physical needs of horses in general. Because the novel is offered from a horse's point of view, however, human relationships within the book are less satisfying.
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.