Friday, 22 June 2012

Lightning Jack

Lightning Jack Lightning Jack by Glenda Millard, illustrated by Patricia Mullins (Scholastic Press)
HB RRP $26.99
ISBN 9781741693911
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

The striking cover of this beautiful book caught my eye immediately.  A rearing black horse, its eye on the viewer, mouth open in terror was like a magnet. The poetic beauty of Glenda Millard’s prose draws the reader deep into the story, imbued with a sense of thrill and challenge.

We travel in the dreams of a young boy, Sam Tully, who falls in love with the big, black, untamed stallion, Lightning Jack. As the horses rush past him, Sam grabs his whip and oilskin to ride the dangerous steed and together they drive five hundred steers. Then freedom beckons and they fly away, up among the storm clouds to Dead Man’s Leap, where Ned Kelly hides in a cave.

A hundred hoof beats on the highway, troopers, three rows deep, 
A hundred metres down, the jagged rocks of Dead Man’s Leap.
A desperate man, a gleam of gold, a pistol aimed and cocked,
‘It takes a man with nerves of steel to take the Leap!’ he mocked.

From here Sam takes Lightning Jack to run in a race, beside Phar Lap.  ‘The thronging thousands cheered as they passed the finish post. All eyes were on the midnight horse, the other was a ghost.’ Until finally, Sam is drawn back to the sound of traffic and the neon lights of a merry-go-round, where his midnight horse stands proudly, waiting for him to ride again.

Being a horse lover and owner myself, I was impressed with Patricia Mullins depictions of these noble animals, their necks proudly arched, their prancing legs fine and well drawn, their faces knowing. It’s so easy for an artist to get it wrong. Patricia uses mixed media with a deft hand, creating unique scenes filled with movement and colour. Among her hobbies she restores old rocking horses and I can see this love of horse in  her depictions of them in this book. My favourite spread accompanies this text by Millard:

In a place like horses’ heaven where the grass grew green and sweet,
Where roses strewed their petals at the passing pageant’s feet,
Came a cavalcade of horses, all keen to seek their fame.
But amongst them was a legend and Phar Lap was his name.
Beside him pranced the midnight horse, the horse called Lightning Jack.

This book would have to be one of my favourites. The quality of the paintings, the sheer ease of the rhyme make it a treasured book to read aloud, to take a small child’s mind on a magnificent journey, not just into a world of horses, but a world in which legends of Australian history provide a glorious backdrop for this stunning horse, Lightning Jack.

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains. She was awarded a May Gibbs Writer’s fellowship in 2011. You can follow her exploits here: 

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