Tuesday, June 14, 2011

King of the Wind

My mother got King of the Wind (and a couple other books) for Evalina for her birthday.  I had never read it.  I'm glad that I got a chance to!

The Story:  Agba is a mute horse-boy from the court of the Sultan in Morocco.  When the Sultan decides to send a company of his best horses to France as a state gift, Agba goes along with his beloved horse, Sham.  Unfortunately, Sham and the other horses are ill-treated on the journey, and don't arrive in France looking like the grand and royal Arabian horses that they are, but like malnourished nags.  Sham and Agba are separated from the other horses, and they go through many owners and jobs, but are never truly appreciated.  Then, finally, years later, and after many abuses, they come to the home of the Earl of Godolphin in England.  While at first, Sham's pedigree is not realized, he soon makes his mark on the world of horses and goes on to father a new and glorious line.

The Good:  It's historical fiction, which is fun.  The fact that Agba cannot speak is not even brought up in the narrative until a few chapters into the book.  The relationship between Agba and Sham is beautiful.  Even when the horse is ill-treated and separated from Agba, he always remembers the boy when they find each other again.  Agba is always thinking of the horse, and always wishes he could let the horse's grand origins be known.  He is sworn to be with Sham until he dies, and they do stay together until the end of the horse's days.  Some of Sham's owners are kind to both boy and horse, and it is heartening to see.  Mostly, it's wonderful to see Sham live up to his potential greatness at the end.

The Bad:  Some of the treatment of Sham (and Agba) is really reprehensible.  It's enough to make a horse lover cringe.  The horse is often ill fed, ill taken care of, and under appreciated.  At one point, Agba ends up in prison, and at another time, the two of them end up in a lonely exile.  Might be a bit much to take for younger kids.

The Verdict:  This is a wonderful story about the origins of the Thoroughbred horse, and about the love of a boy for a horse, and of a horse for a boy.  Amazon recommends this book for ages 9-12, and I would agree.  Evalina is 8 and did well with me reading it to her, but some of the language and themes would have been difficult without me there to help her out a bit.  I would recommend this one, and so would Evalina.  There were many nights when she was not satisfied with one chapter, because of how exciting the story was.  If you like horses, you will likely enjoy this book.

Misty of Chincoteague

Misty of Chincoteague was one of my favorites as a child, and I knew Evalina would love it.  She has been on a horse loving kick lately, so this was a perfect pick.

The Story:  Young Paul and Maureen Beebe live on Chincoteague island, and dream of having their own wild pony from Assateague Island off the coast of Virginia.  They have their heart set on Phantom, the most elusive and wild mare of them all.  When Paul finally gets a chance to be part his first Pony Penning Day (where the people from Chincoteague gather many of the wild ponies to keep them from getting overpopulated), he manages to capture the Phantom.  Along with her comes a surprise - a tiny foal!  Paul names her Misty, and hopes that he and Maureen might be able to buy the Phantom and her foal at the pony auction.  They worked very hard and saved a lot of money by doing odd chores for people, and soon, the two ponies were theirs!  Paul and Maureen worked hard to gentle the wild Phantom, and got her ready for the pony races, while Misty grew up, happy as could be, on Chincoteague.  But, while she was somewhat gentled, and ran like the wind itself in the race, Phantom longed for her island home of Assateague. 

The Good:  For anyone who loves horses, this is a wonderful choice.  Paul and Maureen show a wonderful work ethic, doing anything they could to make some money to reach their goal.  The descriptions of the horses are wonderful.  The story is engaging, and made me want to go to visit Chincoteague (where they still have Pony Penning Day).  This is based on a true story, which is really neat.  Evalina just loved the story.

The Bad:  There are a couple tense spots - like a terrible storm in which Paul is stuck in a horse trailer with the Phantom and Misty, along with times when it wasn't certain that the kids would reach their goal.  Some kids might be sensitive about the whole idea of Pony Penning Day, but in my mind, it's a good talking point about why it is something important to do.

The Verdict:  Wonderful.  Simply wonderful.  It really stands up to the test of time.  It is recommended for ages 9-12, and I would say that's about right for the independent reader.  Evalina is 8 and had no problems with me reading it with her, but she might have had a few problems if reading it alone.  Read it.  I want to get the sequels for her.  Overall, a total win.