Thursday, February 16, 2012

What We're Reading: War Horse

War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo (recipient of the Children's Laureate award, for the years 2003 to 2005), was published in 1982, and adapted for the stage in 2007. In 2011, Steven Spielberg directed the Oscar-nominated movie adapted from this book by screenwriters Lee Hall and Richard Curtis.

The story is told from the perspective of Joey, the spirited steed. Joey forms a bond with his young owner, Albert, on the farm where he ploughs the land. Since horses were heavily used in World War I for pulling artillery and cavalry attacks, Albert's father sells Joey to the British army in order to pay his debts. Joey is thrust into the front lines and sees the violence, the devastation, and the futility of the war. He helps carry hundreds of wounded soldiers from the front to the hospital in treacherous conditions. His bravery in the face of insanity earns the admiration of people who come across with him. He is handed off from British to German to French owners, and at the Battle of the Somme, he's terrified by the bloody attacks and the big gun bombardments, so he runs away. He does everything to survive the cold, the mud, and the barbed wires in order to unite one day with Albert.

I like reading books about horses, since they are noble and good-spirited animals. Not only are they useful farm helpers and reliable as transport, but they are also good companions. So, when I learned that the movie had come out, I became interested to read this children's historical fiction. I liked how the narrator--Joey--judges the human characters. He describes the cruelty of certain adults, such as Albert's father, who would get drunk and become threatening, and he also notes the kindness and innocence of children and comments on the stupidity of humans who start wars and waste the life of young and old alike. I recommend reading this book to learn what the horses went through during World War I and also how they are faithful to kind and caring owners.

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