cover image Running with the Horses

Running with the Horses

Alison Lester, North-South, $16.95 (32p) ISBN 978-0-7358-4002-7

Lester (the Horse Crazy series) uses Vienna's famous Royal Academy of Dancing Horses as a background for a picture book drama that has the sweep of a novel. It's wartime, and troops are approaching. Stable master Viktor takes his daughter, Nina, into the mountains with four valuable stallions, as well as the groom, Karl, and the story's hero—Zelda, a broken-down cab horse Nina rescues at the last minute. Despite her lowly pedigree and rackety condition, Zelda saves the company—twice—from disaster, first leading them through the war-torn city, then keeping them from crossing an unsafe bridge. "She struck out with her forelegs, driving the stallions back off the bridge.... The middle of the bridge had been completely blown away, and a yawning hole gaped above the ravine." Lester draws humans and horses as doll-like figures in b&w, then places them against luxuriously colored, theatrically scaled backdrops, giving the illustrations the curious feel of a puppet performance. Lester's characters are strongly developed, and there's backstory and detail to spare (despite the journalistic tone, a note at the end explains that the episode is fiction). Ages 5–up. (Feb.)