War Horse Booktalk
A gentle horse, forced to live and work in a world at war
- Grades: 6–8
In the town hall of a small English village hangs a picture of a horse. He stands, a beautiful red bay with a white cross on his forehead and four perfectly matched white hocks. He look wistfully out of the picture, head turned as if he'd just noticed someone standing there. To the villagers, it's been there so long that they don't notice it any more. But to someone looking at it more carefully, it's easy to see the inscription at the bottom of the frame. "Joey. Painted by Captain James Nicholls, autumn, 1914." This is Joey's story, written so no one will ever forget him or those who knew him, or the war that they lived and died in.
Joey was a farm horse, half Thoroughbred, but still forced to pull a plow. Still, he was a young horse, fond of Albert, the boy who took care of him, and he enjoyed his life. But all that changed when war was declared. Albert's father needed money for the farm, and he sold Joey to Captain Nicholls. The transformation from farm horse to cavalry horse was difficult. Joey had to learn discipline, to obey his rider quickly and instinctively. The trainer was harsh, but the captain was as gentle as Albert had been. Joey trusted him. It wasn't long before they were on a ship headed to France and the war. A soldier artist and a farm horse—they'd never been to war, or even heard a shot fired in anger. They would have preferred to be almost anywhere else. But they had no choice—they were military and the battle lines had been drawn. They saw the results as soon as they stepped off the ship to walk past unending lines of wounded waiting to go back to England, faces etched with misery and pain. Finally, the captain and his men saw for themselves the kind of war they'd be going into, and there wasn't a single man in the squadron who seemed prepared for it.
Horses and swords against German machine guns and artillery. Gentle men and animals forced to become killers, and dying to protect their country and their beliefs, not knowing if they'd ever get home again. The world at war—World War One.