War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (Egmont UK)
PB $14.95 RRP
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie
First published in 1982, this special edition of War Horse has been reprinted for the centenary of World War one, with a new introduction by the author. The book was already well known, being the basis of the 2011 Stephen Spielberg movie (nominated for several Oscars and BAFTAs) and a highly acclaimed international stage show. War Horse is a story for children aged 10+ about a horse who goes to war, told from the unique perspective of the horse.
The story starts off on a farm in Devon where a young horse is bought home to fifteen year old Albert, by his drunken father. There is an immediate bond between Albert and Joey, as he calls the horse, which develops into an unbreakable friendship. However when war breaks out, Albert's father sells Joey to the army and he is shipped off to the trenches in France. Albert is broken hearted but vows to find his horse again when he is old enough to enlist.
In France, Joey sees battle, injury, death and finds friends on both sides of the trenches. He pulls carts of wounded soldiers and ends up in No Man's Land, where the soldiers stop fighting so he can be rescued. Being a horse, Joey has the ability to understand people no matter whether they are English, French or German, so transcends language barriers. Although in parts a very sad story, eventually Joey is reunited with Albert and the book does have a heart-warming ending.
Through the very effective character of Joey, the concepts and hard truths of war are explored in an adventure type story. The writing has some denser passages and longer words, which may not suit all young readers, but this style fits in with the historical tone. A highlight of this war story is that it is told from such a neutral perspective, which could be an important reason for its continued popularity. Over a million copies of War Horse have sold since 2007.