Reviewed by Clare Brook
Running with the Horses, written and illustrated by Alison Lester, is a charming piece of historical fiction suitable for early readers. The story is concentrated on a single plot line, allowing young readers to stay focused. Although simply told, the narrative captures the emotion of this dramatic story. Lester’s delightful illustrations enhance the text to create a lovely reading experience for young readers.
This fictional story is based on the rescue of the Lipizzaner horses from the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna during World War II. The story is seen through the eyes of Nina, who is the daughter of Viktor, the stable master at the Royal Academy of Dancing Horses. When she was ten years old Europe was in the grip of a terrible war and the Academy had to close down.
Nina’s father, aided by Karl a groom at the Academy, set out to ride over the Alps with the last four stallions. Viktor decided Nina would ride with him, but Nina would not leave an old cab horse Zelda, so she followed her father and Karl, riding Zelda. The experienced old Zelda became the heroine sensing danger and saving them from falling to their deaths when attempting to cross a bombed-out bridge. But Zelda is old and eventually needs saving herself from the terrible cold of the Alps.
Thankfully, after such a perilous journey, it does end well, but not without a few tears on the way. This is a story of bravery and daring, and compassion.
Alison was Australia’s Inaugural Children’s Laureate from 2011 to 2013. A beloved children’s author, her picture books mix imaginary worlds with everyday life, encouraging children to believe in themselves and celebrate the differences that make them special. Alison spends part of every year travelling to schools in remote areas, using her books to help children and adults write and draw about their own lives.
By Alison Lester
Penguin Random House
Pp. 96; $16.99