cover image A Ride on the Red Mare's Back

A Ride on the Red Mare's Back

Ursula K. Le Guin. Orchard Books (NY), $16.95 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-531-05991-3

Text and artwork of extraordinary beauty highlight this stirring tale of a girl who rescues her brother after he is captured by trolls. In the haunting, singsong language of an epic poem, Le Guin depicts the primeval northern country where the nameless girl dwells with her family. While her parents grieve over the loss of their son, the girl sets out to find him, taking for comfort her only toy, a painted wooden horse. For that one night, the figure is transformed into a flesh-and-blood mare of fiery red, which helps the girl find her imprisoned brother and bring him home. Le Guin's evocative prose takes the reader on that wild ride through the chill darkness--we hear the mare's hooves on a wooden bridge; we see the piles of refuse and the scampering rats in the interior of the troll's fortress. In Downing's paintings, too, the red mare (based on a Swedish woodcarving) leaps vividly to life, shaking her bridle of flowers as she crosses a silvery landscape bathed in bluish light. The trolls, with their white, moonlike faces, long talons and spikey hair are appropriately hideous. Even the book's design, lovely without being obtrusive, contributes to the old-world feeling of a classic story. Ages 6-9. (Aug.)