________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 36 . . . . May 18, 2012


The Island Horse.

Susan Hughes. Illustrated by Alicia Quist.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2012.
160 pp., hardcover, $17.95.
ISBN 978-1-55453-592-7.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by Ruth McMahon.

*** /4



"Time to pack,” said her father gently on the seventh day. Ellie did not have much to take with her. Just her quilt, some clothes, her pencils and slate, her school books, the precious paper she had been saving and all her horse drawings. But she had so much to leave behind. She made a list:

My ma. Visiting her at the top of the hill.

Lizzie. My best friend. We’ve never been apart.

Her mom, who helps us. She was my ma’s friend.

My one-room school.

Mrs. James, my teacher.

The chance of a stick of hard candy. Tucked into my pocket by Mrs. Rindall in the village store.

My home. We were going to stay her for always.

The eighth day was leaving day... Ellie stood by her mother’s headstone. A fresh bouquet of orchids lay at its base. Her father had already been there.

Ten-year-old Ellie and her father are left to make a life on their own after the death of Ellie’s mother. Her father left his job to care for her mother when she was ill. After her death, it was difficult for him to find new employment. Ellie’s father is offered a job at a rescue post on Sable Island off the coast of her beloved Nova Scotia home.

     After their journey out to the Sable Island, Ellie and her father are taken across the Island to their station. When they walk into the house, on the kitchen table stands a milk pitcher, holding orchids – Ellie’s mother’s favourite flower.

      Ellie’s father spent the days patrolling the coast leaving Ellie to explore the island on her own. Sable Island is home to many wild horses, one of whom befriends Ellie. Ellie names him Orchid. One day the annual round-up of wild horses to be captured, shipped and sold on the mainland is announced, and Ellie fears for Orchid’s freedom and that of his herd.

      This situation leads to an adventure to save Orchid and his family that involves Ellie, her father and Ellie’s new found friend, Sarah.

      The exotic setting of the storied, barren Sable Island is a metaphor for Ellie’s loneliness. The blossoming relationships between Ellie and Orchid and Ellie and Sarah promise to bring happiness to Ellie once more. The simplicity of the characters and the plot are perfect for the intended audience. It is refreshing to see such a gentle, heart-warming title on the market.

      The Island Horse is a gentle book, sure to be enjoyed by horse loving girls. It would be a great gift for the horse loving set and enjoyed in public and school libraries.

      My one question about the accuracy of the book is the presence of the orchids on the table when Ellie and her father arrive at their Sable Island home. I found references to orchids being grown in Nova Scotia but no references to their being found on Sable Island. But, the young reader will not notice this and will find it a nice connection between Ellie’s old and new homes. A map of the area and the island would be nice additions.


Ruth McMahon is an Alberta-based professional librarian working in a middle school with daughters in middle and elementary school.

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

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