Thursday, Sep. 28, 2023



Jessie Haas. Harper Collins Children's Books. 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. 2004. 224 pp. $15.99.




Jessie Haas. Harper Collins Children’s Books. 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. 2004. 224 pp. $15.99.


The horse, in one form or another, has been present on the earth for more than 65 million years. Any attempt to chronicle such an extended evolution could easily lead to an esoteric, pedantic lesson in Latin names and archeology terms. But Jessie Haas found a delightful and surprising way to do it-with her book of poems.

She journeys through the years, using her poetry to honor the horse and its place in every era and every culture’s own evolution. She marks the horse’s gradual change from eohippus-he small, brown-spotted, four-toed ancestor of the modern horse-o the Mongol ponies, to the Roman cavalry, to the artillery horses of World War I, writing poems that reflect the horse’s place in history.

Harper Collins has aimed this book at children, and Haas’ poetry is written simply and directly enough not to overwhelm. The poetry’s strength lies in her image-laden words, which spark an interest in history in a most aesthetic way.

At the end of each poem, she has designated the time of which she writes, so readers can relate to the little tidbits of information she sprinkles liberally throughout the text. Always, the reader is left with a powerful image of the horse.

For instance, her poem entitled “Treasure” is about the Spanish Conquistador, Coronado, and his quest for the fabled, wealthy, Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. In 1540, Coronado mounted an expedition of more than 1,000 men and went north in search of this treasure. Haas’ poem describes how the explorer followed one tall tale after another, finally turning his troops south in disgust after reaching what is now Kansas and finding “no Emerald City.”

She writes, “Coronado’s horses heard the wind in the buffalo grass…They listened to the silence of the prairies, the waiting emptiness. They alone of all that company perceived the treasure.”

Haas can be humorous too. In a poem entitled “Roman Riders,” she says of the Roman riders that because they rode without a saddle “or even a cushion…they preferred a plump horse with gentle gaits, such animals being easier on the tushion.”

Adults shouldn’t be scared away by the children’s designation, though. Haas’ poetry is clever enough and charming enough for any horse lover.              

 Nicole Lever




Hoofbeats Series: Book 1 and Book 2. Kathleen Duey. Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014. 135 pp. (Book 1). 132 pp. (Book 2). $4.99.


Hoofbeats is a new series from author Kathleen Duey, whose earlier works for children and young adults include the series Survival, American Diaries, Time Soldiers, Unicorn Secret, and Spirit Of The Cimarron.

These books follow 9-year-old orphan Katie Rose, as she travels westward toward Oregon, where she hopes to find her Uncle Jack and once again know love and family life.

Katie has lived with Robert and Martha Stevens on their Iowa farm. Little attention has been paid to the child-her physical and emotional well-being are ignored and harsh scolding with willow switches on her back are a part of her grim daily life. The only person who shows any kindness to the young girl is Hiram Weiss, the hired man, whose own life is touched by grief and loss. When Mr. Stevens brings to the farm a dark gold buckskin stallion-a Mustang-life changes completely for Katie and Hiram.

Book 1 concentrates on farm life in Scott County, Iowa, and includes realistic details of the endless chores that “roll along like a cart wheel on a hard-packed road.” Then Mr. Stevens decides to join the settlers traveling west to a new, and hopefully better, life, but when Katie overhears his plans to place her in an orphanage and to dispose of the Mustang, she strikes out on her own, taking the horse and Hiram with her.

In Book 2, the travelers join up with the Kylers, an extended family headed for the tall timberland of the Pacific Northwest. Katie’s fears and loneliness are nearly overwhelming-only her love of the horse and her search for Uncle Jack keep her feet on the path.

Duey does a good job relaying an accurate historical perspective, while weaving a compelling story for the young reader. Still, a great addition to the book would have been a map illustrating the 2,000-mile journey undertaken by the characters. There is much history to be learned of the great western movement. And in the planned subsequent volumes of Hoofbeats it would be instructive to be able to follow the route taken by the settlers.

The descriptions of wagon train life and the perils of river crossing by barge are vivid and realistic. But the continuous thread of loneliness and despair may be a bit too heavy for some impressionable minds.                         

Cynthia Curran




Janet Muirhead Hill. Raven Publishing, P.O. Box 2885, Norris, MT 59745. 191 pp. Illus. 2003. $9.00.


This book is the fourth in Hill’s series chronicling the adventures of 11-year-old Miranda Stevens and her favorite horse, the stallion Starlight.

While it’s a continuation of their story, it’s still a good read on its own. Hill briefly informs readers of the story’s background, which was chronicled in the first three books.

She also does a great job of balancing the story of Miranda and Starlight with good lessons about life and growing up. This isn’t just a tale of a girl and her horse; it also addresses important issues that many young people face. Miranda’s father hasn’t been a part of her life, and her mother plans to remarry. And one of Miranda’s best friends has to battle against racism.

Miranda’s adventures in the book teach her life lessons. In the first chapter, she has to learn how to share her time with Starlight. A jockey comes to the farm to help train him for a racing career, and Miranda has to make peace with the fact that Starlight needs to accept other people, despite his strong bond with her.

Parts of the book will cause a well-informed reader to raise an eyebrow, such as when Starlight runs three races in three days and that Starlight’s owner allowed Miranda, a young girl, free rein to ride, handle and manage a stallion. Several times, Starlight’s behavior surpasses Miranda’s capabilities. But, usually, the details about Miranda’s work with him and life around the farm are on target. Yes, this is a book about a girl and the horse she loves, and Hill succeeds at creating

characters with whom readers can sympathize. But the author also addresses personal issues that will strike chords with many young readers. They’ll be able to share in Miranda’s love for her horse and her excitement as his career develops, while learning some valuable lessons about dealing with the challenges life brings.                             

Molly Sorge





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