The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd and Levi Pinfold

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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd and Levi Pinfold

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Judy Davies
Reviewed by Judy Davies
Summary: This is a gorgeous book, with well written flowing text and beautiful illustrations. At times harsh and emotional, the intriguing story allows for different interpretations keeping the reader captivated until the very end. It is good to be reminded of hardships suffered in the past and to remember the fortitude and courage of children and those who cared for them. The magical elements in the book are very believable and skilfully woven into the tale.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: October 2016
Publisher: Walker Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1406367584

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Megan Shepherd has written a stunning tale, which is exquisitely illustrated by the artwork of Levi Pinfold. Secret Horses tells the story of a young girl and her friendship with a magical winged horse. When Emmaline is evacuated from Nottingham during the Second World War, she enters a fantasy world of discovery behind the silvery glass of the mirrors in her new country home at Briar Hill. An old sprawling mansion once owned by a wealthy family, Briar Hill has become a children’s hospital run by Nuns. Emmaline and the other children are struggling to recover from a serious illness and have been quarantined away from their families. To add to their plight, they worry about their fathers away at war and their mothers left at home to face bombing raids and the scarcity of food. Emmaline and her friends are carefully nursed by the Nuns through the harsh and snowy winter of 1941. This is a story of bravery and fortitude, good and evil and how one small child can find light even in the darkest of places.

The setting for the story is Briar Hill Hospital, a rambling, draughty and empty building which provides a stark back-drop to the freezing winter of snow and cold, dark days in 1941. The children’s experiences are also stark, their families ripped apart by war and illness, making their futures uncertain. In truth, this could be a very bleak story indeed, were it not for the imaginings, real or otherwise, of Emmaline. A child’s love of horses is so well told in this book, with such haunting illustrations that the reader is kept enthralled and delighted.

Emmaline is a brave child with a fierce imagination and a formidable strength of character. Misunderstood and alone, she tugs at our heart strings as she battles against her illness. The other children find her odd and keep a wide berth, except for one very special friend. An incredible heroine, she inspires the reader to have strength in their convictions no matter what hurdles life places before them.

The story explores the way that the adult characters struggle to find the balance between providing care and education for the children while at the same time allowing them fun and freedom in their sorry and isolated existence. Emmaline in particular, is constantly seeking freedom to explore the world beyond Briar Hill and her frequent sightings of the mysterious winged horses. The story gradually unfolds and carefully guards the secret of how Emmaline’s future will work out, right to the end. As a reader, the suspense sometimes feels hard to bear.

In keeping with the magical aspects in this book, the text is wonderfully enlivened by Pinfold’s intricate illustrations. At one point the drawings become more prominent than the writing, and this gives a dream-like, cinematic quality of images flashing past. Throughout, the portrayal of a subtle misty world of winged horses, provides an enticing and hopeful contrast to the harsh reality of life at Briar Hill.

I would recommend this book to the brave reader, who can stick with the story to the very last page. It is worth it. A tale of incredible strength, goodness and determination.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is another beautifully illustrated novel about grief and loss. Another excellent read is Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian.

Buy The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd and Levi Pinfold at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd and Levi Pinfold at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd and Levi Pinfold at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd and Levi Pinfold at Amazon.com.


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