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War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

September 18, 2012

Book Review: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo.  Children’s Historical Fiction. Lexile 1090

War Horse Book ReviewMaybe you’re like me and hadn’t heard of the book War Horse until the movie came out earlier this year, but it was published in 1982 and I’m glad it finally came to my attention.

When I saw the movie trailer, it looked pretty intense and maybe a little too violent for my tastes, so I wasn’t sure how I would like the book, but the author did a great job of portraying the evils and devastation of war without  indulging in horrific, stomach twisting details. I was also expecting another version of the typical horse-goes-through-multiple-evil-owners-until-you-want-to-scream plot, but again I was pleasantly surprised.

The story of Joey is based on the real life account of a horse used in one of England’s World War I cavalry regiments, and the narrative is told as Joey would tell it. He is just a weanling when he arrives on the farm in the countryside of England.  Joey’s first impression of his new home with the hot tempered, hard drinking master is not comforting until young Albert comes on the scene. Albert is quiet and kind to Joey and they build a lifelong bond.

When Albert’s father gets into financial straights he sells Joey to the army and Joey’s peaceful life as small farm work horse is over. Thrust into frightening battles and terrible conditions, Joey’s strength and stamina are tested almost to the breaking. Along the way he meets soldiers on both sides of the conflict, some are kind and appreciative of his beauty, some are hard and cynical and see no beauty in anything.

This is one of the lessons of War Horse, there are good men and bad men on both sides of any war. Seen through the eyes of a horse, we are freed of loyalties based on geography or politics and the character of the men he meets are simply based on how he is treated. There are men who appreciate good horses and who abhor the destruction that come to them on both sides of the English/German front.

Spoiler Alert

When Joey is sold to the army, Albert, too young to join up, swears he will find Joey again someday. Albert joins the military as soon as he is old enough and is assigned to a large vet hospital on the frontline. A very weary and battle worn Joey arrives at the vet station and he and Albert are reunited. These events actually took place and Joey lived on for many years in Albert’s farm.

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  • As the war continues winter conditions are very hard on the horses and they are described as having no hair on their legs, masses of cracked sores, and continual coughs
  • Many horses succumb to the lack of feed and shelter
  • A little French girl’s story is told; how her mother, father and brothers were killed by the Germans
  • One solder is called Crazy Old Friedrich because he talks to himself and laughs
  • There are some emotionally gripping episodes in the book such as when Joey’s friend, Topthorn (a horse), dies of heart failure Pg 101
  • The regiment gets hit by artillery and Joey’s caregiver gets killed Pg 104
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