War horse by Michael Morpurgo

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Illustrated by Rae Smith. Egmont, 2013. ISBN 9781405267960.
Highly recommended for upper primary and older, for art and drama students too. What an amazingly beautifully illustrated version of a captivating and heart-rending story of WW1, the trenches of France, the Belgian countryside and Albert's home in Iddesleigh, England. It is a truly spectacular book with its stark black and white illustrations but with two exceptions: the hard cover under the dust jacket and a double page spread which is one of red poppies splattered with blood! Very stark and memorable images. The cruelty of war is expressed in the painfully realistic illustrations and Morpurgo's lyrical text and highlighted in the two double page spreads of the rough waters to France which the horses endure and the trenches, loud and frightening and deadly. It's a book to devour with the intricate small and double page black and white line drawings so expressively drawn that they tell a story on their own. Morpurgo's text is well known and loved for its enduring theme of the love, heroism and the tragedy of war. When Joey contracts tetanus Albert's friend David says to Major Martin, 'But I remembers you telling us when we first come here that a horse's life is 'p'raps even more important than a man's, 'cos an horse hasn't got no evil in him 'cepting any that's put there by men.' The relationships of Captain Nicholls and Joey and Joey's friendship with Topthorn are sensitively portrayed. The end papers give a practical background to the fighting. This is a book to treasure. War is terrible and so many lives are lost but the frailty of the human spirit endures in Albert and Joey and the illustrations bring the reader face to face with death, love and hope.
Sue Nosworthy