If it were up to me to decide which books children of today should read, War Horse would come out on top of the list. Morpurgo's narrative is very straightforward, and his sentences so crisp that they appear to be Hemingway-esque.
The horse, named Joey, has the unlucky fate to serve as a horse in the English army during WWI. But fate's hand is indeed cruel, and we see Joey taken by the English, the Germans, the French, and back to the English. It's an adventure story, really, with the horse taking center stage.
What's surprising is what we find out after reading both sides of the two warring nations. When it comes down to the soldiers fighting in the front, all they really want is for the war to end and for them to go home to their families. It's a fact not lost even on Joey.
Consider the scene between an English and a German soldier when they meet in the trenches to rescue Joey, whose leg has been caught in barbed wire. The two soldiers simply decide to flip a coin to decide who gets to keep Joey.
"In an hour, maybe, or two," he said, "we will be trying our best again each other to kill. God only knows why we do it, and I think He has maybe forgotten why. Good-bye, Welshman. We have shown them, haven't we? We have shown them that any problem can be solved between people if only they can trust each other. That is all it needs, no?"
The little Welshman shook his head in disbelief as he took the rope. "I think if they would let you and me have an hour or two out here together, we could sort out this whole wretched mess. There would be no more weeping widows and crying children in my valley and no more in yours. If worse came to worst, we could decide it all on the flip of a coin, couldn't we?"I did find that particular scene one of the most poignant that I've read among children's novels. Perhaps we need to be reminded again that, for all the vastness that is the scope of war, the solution can be as simple as talking or even just calling "heads" or "tails" in a coin flip.
Read this book if:
- You have very strong feelings about war.
- You love classic children's novels.
- You've always wanted to own a horse.