________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 19. . . .January 21, 2011



Majid Damircheli. Illustrated by Wendy Siemens.
Regina, SK: Your Nickel's Worth, 2010.
32 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-894431-58-3.

Subject Heading:
Horses-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.

Review by Dave Jenkinson.

** /4



All of a sudden, Piebald's eyes shone with happiness. Friendship and kindness filled his heart. "I have an idea," he whinnied to the wild ones, "but I cannot succeed alone. If some of us wade into the marsh, the others can step on our backs and cross it to safety. I will be the first. Who will join me?"


If I was adjudicating Piebald solely on the basis of its illustrations, I would have given the book three and a half stars and a "Highly Recommended" summary statement as Siemens's excellent watercolour illustrations of wild horses are full of life and energy. However, if I were to judge the book by Damircheli's text alone, it would likely get a failing grade. The publisher's publicity material refers to Piebald as an "allegorical tale," pretty heady stuff for a picture book's young audience. Piebald, the horse, comes across as a four-legged version of Patrick Henry, the American Revolutionary War figure forever linked with the line, "Give me Liberty or give me Death."

internal art      Piebald, so called because of his colouration, leads a herd of wild horses that run freely on the plains. However, the settlers, who have been carrying out all of their work manually and who travel on foot, decide that "life would be much better if the horses did most of the hard work." To lure the horses into captivity, the settlers set out grain and vegetables, but the horses prefer their natural diet and so avoid being captured. When a drought one year leads to drastic shortages of the horses' supply of grass and water, some of the horses who are in a weakened state allow themselves to be captured.

From that time on, there have been two groups of horses: tame and wild. The tame ones became slaves to the people while the wild ones were free and did not let the people close enough to enslave them.

     Piebald continues to lead those of his herd who have chosen their freedom over slavery, but the people do not cease in their attempts to try to capture the remaining wild horses, ultimately driving them towards a deep marsh that was "too wide to go around" and "too deep and muddy to wade through." Faced with choosing between his herd's capture or the horses' death by drowning, Piebald puts forth a third option, his suggestion found in the excerpt above, that being that some horses wade into the marsh while the others use their backs as a "living bridge" to cross the marsh to freedom. Of course, Piebald and those selfless horses that chose to follow him in volunteering to form the bridge all drown on the book's penultimate double page spread.. Having just been told that "Piebald was the last to fall," young concrete readers will likely have difficulty with the first line of text on the book's closing spread: "But Piebald and his brave friends still roam the plains."

      After asking, "But I thought Piebald was dead?" the next question that I suspect most youngsters will pose will be, "Can't horses swim?" And, of course, the answer is "Yes" which then leads to their next query, "Well, why didn't Piebald and his herd just swim across the marsh then?" As I said earlier, allegory is tough stuff for youngsters, and an adult's reply that Piebald is only metaphorically still alive and that the marsh is not to be seen as an actual marsh but is to be viewed as a symbol will not likely resonate with children. The story's time and place are simultaneously concrete and universal, another problem for young readers. Finally, Damircheli treats Piebald anthropomorphically, and so the horse talks, reasons and feels emotions.

      Occasionally, Damircheli's prose becomes almost poetic, as can be seen in the following brief passage.

Hearts and hooves thundering with the fierce joy of running unfettered and unyoked, the wild horses ran and ran and remained free.

     Nonetheless, these brief moments are insufficient to rescue the text.

Recommended with reservations.

Dave Jenkinson, who is CM's editor, lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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