CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 29 . . . . March 30, 2018
If a Horse Had Words is a colourful exploration of language and friendship. A foal, born into a lush meadow dotted with friendly looking farmhouses, immediately begins to explore her new world. When her first steps leave her stuck in a badger hole, a young boy comes to her rescue and gently encourages her to find her strength. Her name, Red Badger, is given to her because of her red colour and the incident with the badger hole.
As time passes, Red Badger grows up, and her friendship with the boy blossoms and grows. Together, they explore their world and the words and sounds within it. Much to the boy's disappointment, when Red Badger proves too wild to ride, she is sold and taken away. Children will sympathize with the boy and Red Badger as the two friends are separated and Red Badger finds herself living on a new ranch. Red Badger misses the boy terribly, but time passes, and she eventually finds her place as a bronc at the rodeo. Cooper ensures the reader will leave the book satisfied as Red Badger reunites with her friend when he arrives at the rodeo as a cowboy. Together, they explore the last word of the book: joy.
Eldridge's illustrations immediately capture the tone and spirit of the story and put emphasis on each word that Cooper chooses to feature throughout the text. She starts with "up" as the foal stands up for the first time. She moves on to "boy" as the foal meets her new friend and continues on to "seasons", "name", "friend", "sold", "remember", and, finally, "joy". Each word is set apart from the body text and emphasized by a large unique font. Other words are left within the text and are explored more subtly and with less emphasis, words such as willow, crocus, puddle, and sky. For these words, further exploration is left to the reader who can choose to identify each one within the illustrations. Cooper's descriptive language throughout the story carries the reader through the horse's experiences and encourages the reader to explore more than just the words and what they mean, but also the sounds of words: "a gentle sound, like the swish of a horse's tail. Shhhhhhh." The final word of the text is presented as a celebration. When the boy and the horse find each other they experience "joy", and the word is presented colourfully across the page spread with the boy and the horse gleefully celebrating on top of the J.
If a Horse Had Words, a gentle and emotive story, will capture the hearts of many readers. The strong story of friendship, coupled with the exploration of language, will ensure that this book has a strong readership and many relevant uses. The illustrations and lyrical text bring the story to life and capture a gentle sense of whimsy that will delight and engage young readers.
Danielle Wing is a Children's Librarian in North Vancouver, BC.