Thursday, 21 August 2014

Book Review - War Horse

I have just finished reading War Horse by Michael Morpurgo and what a tale it was. Told from the point of view of Joey the horse, it was definitely different to any book I'd ever read before. To give you a feel for it, I will summarise the plot.

The story begins with the sale of a horse called Joey to a farm; consequently separating him from his mum. Luckily, Albert (the son of the drunken farm owner) cares for Joey to protect him from his father and later trains him as a farm horse alongside Zoey, the stoic farm pony.

Joey is sold on to a soldier named Captain Nicholls not long later by Albert's father because he "needs the money bad". Albert tries to stop the sale but does not succeed, yet all is not lost, as Captain Nicholls promises to take good care of Joey and says that when Albert is old enough, he could join the cavalry and maybe find his horse again.

However, Joey doesn't have an easy time of it in army training as he is ridden by the harsh Corporal Samuel Perkins who isn't as kind as Captain Nicholls. Fortunately, after training the Captain spends hours talking to Joey whilst drawing him which comforts the horse and makes his time in training decidedly more bearable.

Joey's luck seems to continue when he meets a new friend, Topthorn, the magnificent black stallion. They are competitors as well as companions and keep each other on their toes. Yet, sadness returns when Captain Nicholls is killed in their first battle. Joey is given Trooper Warren to be his new rider, but Warren is a lot less experienced and doesn't have as light a touch as Nicholls did.

A little after their meeting, Trooper Warren is separated from Joey when he and Captain Stewart are taken as prisoners of war. Joey and Topthorn are lead away and meet Herr Hauptmann who orders his men to give the horses the best treatment possible. However, both horses are needed to carry wounded soldiers away from the battlefields and are stabled elsewhere on a farm owned by a little girl named Emilie and her grandfather.

Although the work is punishing, Joey and Topthorn look forward to seeing Emilie at the end of every day because she cleans, feeds and chats for hours on end to them.

After a blissfully peaceful time working on Emilie's farm, the horses are taken away by soldiers to pull a gun alongside four others known as Heinie, Coco and the two golden Haflingers. After a while, Coco and Heinie both die and the others are left to pull the gun in worsening conditions.

After surviving the long winter, the spring comes and the horses are put under the care of a nicer man named Friedrich. However, Topthorn is still suffering and he dies just before an attack in which Friedrich is also killed by an explosion. Joey is so bereft that he stands guard over the bodies of Friedrich and Topthorn all night until he is frightened by a tank and runs as fast as he can in an effort to escape the war. He is eventually forced to stop running as his injuries and fatigue overcome him. With confusion and panic, he then realises that he is in no man's land.

From either side of him, a British and German soldier approach and flip a coin to see who gains ownership of Joey. The English win and take Joey to hospital. When he arrives, he is put under the care of two men named David and ... Albert! Joey is reunited with his original owner after David cleans him and reveals his unmistakable four white socks and cross shaped mark on his forehead.

Yet, Joey is still fatally ill and requires twenty four hour attention in order to recover from his tetanus. It takes the whole team of workers at the hospital to pull Joey through, but they succeed and all seems well again.

However, when David is killed, Albert falls into a state of depression. Even when the war finally ends, there is little celebration, merely relief for the remaining men that they are still alive.

The horses are auctioned off and just when it seems that Joey will be sold to a French butcher, Emilie's grandfather makes the final bid and buys Joey. He then sells Joey back to Albert for one penny on the condition that Albert will love Joey as much as Emilie did.

Albert takes Joey home with him to meet Maisie, his future wife. The story ends happily, with Zoey and Joey working alongside each other again, just like in the beginning.

I would recommend this book to an age range of 11-15 as the topic might be harder to handle for younger children, but the language used isn't challenging enough for very advanced readers.

I liked the fact that it had a happy ending and all the loose ends were tied up, but if you prefer books which mirror real life (which doesn't have an ending), the end to War Horse may seem too idyllic or unrealistic.

Overall, it's a very original and thoughtful book which could be used to educate children and teenagers on World War One.

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