The Sandhorse by Ann Turnbull

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The Sandhorse by Ann Turnbull

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: An artist builds a horse out of sand on St Ives beach. When the night falls, the white horses in the sea start calling out to the sand one... A hauntingly beautiful story with lovely pictures, The Sandhorse is highly recommended for children aged 3-8 and might make the grownup reading it shed a tear too.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 32 Date: March 2002
Publisher: Andersen Press Ltd
ISBN: 1842700995

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You call them white horses in English and in Polish they are called manes. Clearly, there is something distinctly equine about the white sea waves. But what if there really were horses, galloping in the waves, frisking, prancing, flicking their tails? Seek this remarkable picture book to find out.

An artist who lives in St Ives goes out on the beach to build sand sculptures. One day, he builds a horse out of sand, and when the artist is gone and the people leave the beach, the sand horse wakes up and starts listening to those other ones, the free horses frolicking in the bay, galloping through the waves, calling him to the giant blue meadow out there; to Land's End, to Sennen, to Lizard. The night falls darker and darker and the tide comes in...

The book is illustrated by Michael Foreman and his work is a perfect complement for Ann Turnbull`s text, fairly realistic but grown up, with washed-out colours subtly accentuating the mood of the story, sandy and pink during the day, darker and more foreboding during the night and again, full of colour after the sunrise the next day. The artwork is a perfect supporting tool for the text here, as it should be in any decent picture book.

Ann Turnbull is a novelist who writes for older children/teenagers and this is her first picture book. I am not familiar with her other work, but `The Sand Horse` is a brilliant accomplishment. Not a very long read (just under 30 pages, formatted as hardly more than captions under the full page illustrations), the story is told in a language which is simple but rich and poetic. Turnbull is not afraid of slightly more difficult words, but the structure of the text is of such clarity that it remains accessible to a small child, even if not every word is understood. There is a rhythm, almost a melody to the words and the urgency, the longing of the horse, and the temptation of the sea is expressed brilliantly.

I cannot pinpoint the single factor that makes for the extraordinary beauty of the story. I don't know how she did it, but she did - if there ever was a haunting story, this is one. I cried when I read it for the first time to my daughter, and I cried when I read it again after several months. What is weird, it is that the story isn't really sad but nor it is one of these sentimental `lost and then found` type of things. Maybe it is the expression of the initial loneliness of the sand horse, maybe it taps into the regret we all must have felt when the sea took away our castles of yesterday; maybe it is the fact that the sand horse has to stop being the sand horse if he wants to join the white ones in the sea and thus has to die to achieve the ultimate freedom. Or maybe in some way we are all just like the sand-horse, stuck on the beach and looking up at the falling night with one eye - who has never dreamt of flying? I will happily settle for the gallop across the waves.

In my opinion this book will have a very broad appeal. I read it to my daughter for the first time when she was about three and she was able to follow the story despite not recognising many of the words. She perceived the poignancy, looked a bit sad (I was shedding big tears...) and after the first read was reluctant to listen to it again, so I thought that she was perhaps too small for its emotional impact. Imagine my surprise when few weeks later she herself picked the book out of the library box and demanded a re-loan! It took a while then to cajole her to actually listening to it, so there is obviously some ambivalence there and the story is probably much too intense to be a daily read. Now she is 5 we have bought the book and it gets read every few weeks.

But the story is also sophisticated enough to appeal to much older children. I would say that due to it being clearly a picture book, the upper age limit for buying is probably 7 or 8, older children might get offended if a `kiddie` book like that was offered to them. On the other hand, it might be a very good choice for a struggling reader of 8 or 9 who responds well to pictures, especially a girl. Older children might also be happy to read it to or with a younger sibling. As for adults, I certainly feel that my life was a little bit richer after reading this story, but I will not go totally mad and recommend it as a book for stand alone adults.... it is a children's book, after all.

As you can probably guess, I loved it. Heartily recommend for your child or a present for a 3 to 7 year old.

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