cover image Horsefly


Alice Hoffman. Hyperion Books, $15.99 (48pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0367-5

Hoffman's (Fireflies) fantasy about a girl who overcomes her fears contains a wise grandfather, a wicked circus owner, a herd of horses white as clouds and another horse the size of a Saint Bernard. Unfortunately, the abrupt transition from the realistic, leisurely opening of the story to its fantasy conclusion seems to crack the story in half like an egg. Jewel swears that ""the one thing... she would never do, no matter what, was ride a horse."" But the girl feels protective of Bug, a newborn runtlike foal, and Hoffman convincingly conveys the blossoming relationship between girl and horse. At a climactic moment, Jewel mounts Bug in response to a cruel classmate's challenge to a horse race; she can't stop Bug from running over a cliff and jumps off him. Here the tale takes a preposterous turn. In an unlikely scenario, while Jewel walks to the cliff's edge to check on the horse, ""everyone else headed back to the school."" Thus, only Jewel witnesses Bug unfurling previously undetectable wings. Later, during one of Bug's flights, a circus owner sees his gifts and abducts him. Timid Jewel single-handedly saves not only Bug, but also a herd of ponies trained by a woman who beats them. Hoffman unfolds her story with graceful language and a compelling voice, but the tale's swoop into fantasy may leave readers befuddled. Johnson and Fancher's dark and hazy paintings are appropriately mysterious, but do little to help make the fantasy elements of the story believable. Ages 5-9. (Aug.)