As I began reading this story, recently made into a Steven Spielberg movie by the same title, I immediately was reminded of one of my favorite horse stories, Black Beauty. Joey, the War Horse, and Black Beauty actually have a lot in common. Both horses tell their stories in first person from the point of view of an intelligent and winsome horse. Both horses have a succession of owners and riders, both good and bad. Both horses see their friends mistreated and abused, and both are themselves injured by poor handling and by the illnesses to which neglected or overworked horses are susceptible. Both horses form bonds of affection with some of their human owners, and both are rewarded with rest after a series of adventures and misadventures.
Joey, the narrator of War Horse, is a half-thoroughbred bay horse who is trained to do farm work by his beloved first owner Albert, a teenaged farm boy. However, as World War I breaks out, Joey becomes a cavalry horse, and he is taken to France to carry an officer in the British army into battle. As wars sometimes do, the First World War brings Joey into many settings and hazards that he would never otherwise have experienced.
I thought the author got the voice just right in this story, not too intellectual; after all Joey is a horse. And still the voice was that of a clever animal capable of forming loving bonds with his human owners and keepers.
War Horse would be a wonderful introduction to World War I for the middle grade reader, and I can’t wait to see the movie now that I’ve read the book.