Friday, January 20, 2012

SPL Shelf Life [kids]

The Winter Pony, by Iain Lawrence, 246 pages.

“I heard the wind rise. I heard it whine and moan. Soon came the patter of whirling snow, and I knew [another] blizzard had begun.”
Born in the Manchurian highlands, the wild pony was captured at a young age by men who subjected him to years of drudgery and cruel treatment. Later, the pony was sold to an English explorer, Captain Robert Scott. For the first time, he was shown kindness and love. He was given a name, “James Pigg”. And then, he was chosen to be part of Scott’s disastrous 1910 expedition to the unexplored Antarctic, a race to the South Pole, destined to be a tale of heart-breaking hardship and tragedy. 
Racing against a rival explorer, Roald Amundsen of Norway, Scott used sled dogs and ponies to haul the provisions and equipment that his men needed. It seemed that danger and death waited at almost every turn for the animals and men in the harsh, isolated Antarctic environment – from fierce blizzards and never-ending snow, unexpected cracks and crevices in melting sea ice, ravenous killer whales, snow blindness, frostbite, hunger, and the sheer exhaustion of making such a long journey into an unknown land.  
Telling the story of Robert Scott’s expedition through a pony “softens” this captivating story of hardship and danger a little, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone younger than eleven years of age. Why? There are some difficult parts in which men, ponies or dogs die. Author Iain Lawrence’s consummate skill with words makes the tragedies – and the end of the story - so real that it really does require a level of emotional maturity to read this novel.
Having said this, The Winter Pony is an infinitely engrossing, moving and beautifully-written tale for older readers.
An informative, brief third-person summary of the actual historical events of both Robert Scott’s and Roald Amundsen’s expeditions to the South Pole is included at the end of each chapter.
** Recommended for ages 11 years and up.
Primerica: A Home for the Brave, by Jane Lyon and Karen Bailey, 39 pages.

What happens to race horses when they are no longer able to race? Where do they go?
These were the questions facing Primerica, a winning racehorse, when he reached the age of ten years and was too old and weary to race. Descended from an impressive family of champions and ridden by some of the best jockeys in the United States, Primerica had always “given his all” and tried his very best on the racetrack. Now he faced an uncertain future, and as he waited in his stall, he was worried.
 But Primerica was lucky. Loaded into a van, he was taken on a long ride into the state of Kentucky. There, he was delivered to the Summer Wind Farm – a special horse farm where he would live out his retirement, treated kindly and even reunited with his mother.
Primerica and Summer Wind Farm (a “home for the brave”) are real. The Farm is run by Jane Ryan – one of the authors of this book. Over the years, she and her husband have rescued several thoroughbreds and brought them to their farm where they are treated with love and compassion.
The beautiful, softly-coloured graphite drawings of artist Susie Gordon are one of the highlights of this poignant story, which ends so satisfactorily.
** Recommended for ages 8 to 12 years.

These reviews appeared in The Stratford Gazette on January 19, 2012. Written by Sally Hengeveld, Librarian.

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