Spud and Charli by Samantha Wheeler

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UQP, 2014. ISBN 9780702250187
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Horses, Bats, Imagination, Environment. When Charli goes for a week's riding camp, she is thrilled. Now she can learn to ride from an expert, learn all about horse management and perhaps in the future persuade her parents to buy her a horse. When the girls are given their horses, the haughty experienced Mikaela takes the palomino, and Charli is left with the huge ex racehorse, Spud, but it does not take her long to bond with this animal. The owner of the riding camp, Mrs Bacton, has some strict instructions and Charli is an attentive listener, but soon she becomes aware of a colony of bats living nearby. She knows all about these animals, how they can infect horses with the Hendra virus and how it can be passed on to humans. Her over excited imagination takes to heart a conversation about shooting which she half hears and she resolves to escape with Spud to avoid him being shot as the virus takes effect. This leads to some distressing events which see Charli about to be sent home in disgrace.
This is a neatly told story. Younger readers will love reading of Charli's time at the camp, getting to know her horse and learning how to look after him. Wheeler includes a great deal of information without losing any of its potency and younger readers will feel they know far more about horses and bats in finishing.
It is refreshing to see a story where the protagonist is less than perfect and makes mistakes which she then needs to resolve by herself. I love Charli and her quirky over imaginative personality and sympathise with the way she deals with the obstacles Wheeler puts in her way. Her resolution of these makes her a stronger girl and will endear her to all readers who see something of themselves in her.
Included are a number of pages outlining more information about horses, bats and the virus, with websites where more information can be found. Wheeler's environmental concerns form a solid base against which this engaging story is told.
Fran Knight