HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: War Horse
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Publisher: Scholastic Press, republished in 2011
Related website: www.scholastic.com (publisher)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 8 and up but I would suggest ages 12 and up
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Morpurgo, Michael. War Horse (originally published in 1982 in Great Britain by Kaye and Ward; republished in 2011 by Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). Joey is a young colt who was purchased for three guineas by an English farmer. The farmer’s son Albert is thirteen at the time and begins to care for Joey. But when World War I begins a couple of years later, Albert’s father sells Joey to Captain Nicholls of the British cavalry because he needs the money. Albert, who is still too young to join the army, promises that someday he will find the horse. Joey is ridden in a disastrous cavalry charge into German machine guns. Captain Nicholls is killed, and the horse is captured as a prisoner of war. The Germans use him first for hospital cart transport and then for artillery cart pulling but allow him to be stabled on a French farm where he is taken care of by the farmer and his granddaughter Emelie. Bolting after his friend Topthorn dies, Joey ends up in no-man’s land between the German and English trenches and through a coin-toss is once again taken by the English but is very ill. Meanwhile, Albert has joined the veterinary corps. What will happen to Joey? And will Albert and Joey ever see each other again?
There is not as much good historical fiction for young people from the World War I era as from other well-known war periods. Readers can get unique and perceptive views of World War I as soldiers from both sides of the conflict share their thoughts and feelings with Joey. The age range is listed for eight and up, but I would recommend it more for twelve and up. Some of the battle scenes, while not overly graphic, are rather blunt and might not be appropriate for younger children, especially those who are sensitive. Also, the “h” word is used a few times as a curse, and the name of God is found as an interjection on several occasions. The novel is said to have an “anti-war” message, but I think older young people can still enjoy the story, which is based on a true story about a horse named Warrior, even if they don’t necessarily share the attempted “neutral” stance of the author. Of course, everyone prefers peace, but many of us still believe that there were a right side and a wrong side in World War I. And the way in which the passing of time is dealt with might be confusing to some. The book was originally published in 1982 but didn’t become well known until made into an award winning play in 2007 and an acclaimed film in 2011.