CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 20. . . . January 26, 2018
Benny's Dream Horse takes young readers back to the North End of Winnipeg in the 1930s when Ben Zaidman was growing up. An avid reader of cowboy stories, Benny is saving up to buy a horse "to ride across the windswept prairie." His mother says they can't afford to keep a horse and suggests that Mr. Bekker, the baker, might let him ride Fairdle, the big brown horse that pulls his delivery wagon. Author Harriet Zaidman explains that "Faird" is the Yiddish word for "horse" and that "Fairdle" is an affection expression of the word. She also notes that Benny's Dream Horse is based on a story by Ben Zaidman.
When Benny asks Mr. Bekker to sell Fairdle to him, the baker suggests that Benny accompany him on his route and help him care for Fairdle so as to make an informed decision about whether or not to buy her. Fairdle is a docile horse who sticks to routine, and Benny learns how to groom her and clean her stall. With his friends, he practises riding using a saddle on a saw horse, but the summer passes, and Mr. Bekker still won't let him take Fairdle's reins or ride her. Finally, one Sunday afternoon, Benny saddles her up, without permission, and takes her out.
As a result of the near accident (see beginning quote) something about Fairdle is revealed to Benny. Mr. Bekker realizes that times are changing and that he should buy a van. After paying Benny for his help, he takes the boy and his friends to visit Fairdle who has been retired happily out to pasture. When Benny's parents buy him a bicycle, he feels "pretty special", speeding down the sidewalk with the wind in his hair.
In the end, Benny, now as a grandfather, says that, although he never became a cowboy, he still has the money Mr. Bekker paid him, as well as stories for his family. "Gifts of kindness and imagination", he says, are worth "more than all the money in the world". Children will see that, as life goes on, infinite possibilities open up, and that their dreams may come true in a different way than they imagined. This gentle, upbeat story will appeal to readers six to ten.
The story is enhanced by illustrations in watercolour and acrylic by Winnipeg artist Tom Andrich who has chosen a style appealing to his intended audience. His pictures transport readers back in time to a neighbourhood of wood frame houses and small businesses, where mothers hung the laundry out on the line to dry, where you could keep a horse in a stable in your neighbourhood, and where kids could race their bicycles down the sidewalk.
On the back cover, along with her photo and bio note and that of Tom Andrich, Zaidman provides biographical information about Ben Zaidman (1922-2006) who was her father. The photo of both of her parents is accompanied by the note: "Together they told their children about the people who shaped their lives and made the community legendary."
Benny's Dream Horse is a charming children's book that can serve as an example for aspiring authors who want to present family stories to future generations.
Though a resident of Ottawa, ON, Ruth Latta has partly set her new novel, Grace in Love (Ottawa, Baico, 2018), in Winnipeg, MB.