Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Hear With Your Heart

When you enter your favorite indie book shop sometimes you are looking for a specific title.  On another occasion you search a subject area or genre with no special book in mind.  There are certain circumstances when after locating what you want, you are drawn to another shelf for no particular reason.  It's uncanny how you reach for a book, read it and realize it speaks to your reader's heart.

You stop for a few moments wondering why this title speaks to your reader's heart.  If A Horse Had Words (Tundra Books, June 5, 2018) written by Kelly Cooper with illustrations by Lucy Eldridge is one of those books.  It addresses with great care and insight how bonds are built between humans and animals.  Some animals have a large capacity for understanding and unconditional love.

THE FOAL IS BORN on a spring morning of sunshine and snowmelt.

She sees the signs of spring around her in the trees, flowers, fresh rainfall and the sky.  Instinctively she knows she needs to stand.  As she struggles to brace her body with her front legs pushing up, her back legs pull her down as they sink into badger hole.

 A truck rumbles into view as she tries to get herself free.  Stepping from the stopped vehicle a man and boy offer assistance.  After the foal is pulled free by a gentle voice, a rope and her own will, she realizes she and the boy are alike.  They both prefer to move as far off the ground as they can.

Seasons come and seasons go.  The foal becomes a horse named Red Badger.  The boy grows into a teen who likes peppermint candies.  One day when the boy tries to ride Red Badger her love of the boy is overshadowed by her dislike of the ground.  She bucks and kicks tossing him to the dirt.  Red Badger is sold.

Many more seasons come and go.  Red Badger is at a rodeo.  None of the cowboys can stay in the saddle on her back.  Again she waits in the chute for her next rider.  She hears a remembered gentle voice.  She smells a familiar scent.  Elation.

A storytelling rhythm is supplied with the picturesque descriptions of Kelly Cooper followed by

If a horse had words, the word would be . . .

With her words she takes us to a place and time acquainting us with the moods and emotions of the horse and her boy.  Sentence by sentence she builds the relationship between the two, one horse and one human, until a timeless friendship is forged.  Here is a passage.

She is tall now, has to bend her head to sniff
the pocket of the boy's shirt.  She smells
something sweet and sharp and delicious.

"Hello, Red Badger."

If a horse had words, the word would be . . .


A generous use of white space on the opened dust jacket draws our attention to the soft, lush images rendered in watercolor here and throughout the book.  Each brush stroke contributes to the subtle textures, and the play of light and shadow.  Spare lines depict emotions on the facial features of the boy and horse.  They are older on the front.  To the left, on the back, both of them are younger, joyously leaping on a sunny spring day.  The text reads:

If a horse had words, the word would be . . .


On the book case white is used as a strong element.  It highlights the final pages of the book.  On the left we see a herd of horses, the new companions of Red Badger.  On the right, a boy (young man) and his horse are together again.  They still move as far off the ground as possible.

On the opening and closing endpapers Red Badger is displayed in five different positions.  The boy is shown in six.  They make a jubilant repeating pattern on all four pages.  Two of those are enlarged and used on the verso and title pages.

Each of the illustrations created by Lucy Eldridge spans either two pages, a single page or a series are placed on a single page.  Sometimes a small image will be tucked above or below the text.  Pictures are also used to frame text.  The manner in which Lucy uses white space causes it to act more as light than white.  It illuminates her watercolor illustrations. 

One of my many favorite pictures is when the boy and foal first meet.  The foal's back legs are stuck in the badger hole.  The rope has been looped around her neck by the boy's father.  The horse is not happy about this rope.  The boy reaches in to touch her nose and softly whisper


A pale green small hill is placed behind them on the lower portion of the page.  Tiny purple flowers, crocuses, bloom in a patch in the lower right-hand corner.  White covers most of the page above the foal and the boy.

It's a story of friendship.  It's a story of remembered love.  I can almost hear readers sigh with pleasure when reading or listening to If A Horse Had Words written by Kelly Cooper with illustrations by Lucy Eldridge.  You will want to use this with a thematic story time on friendship or horses or both.  I sincerely recommend this for both your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Lucy Eldridge and her work please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  The publisher Tundra Books has an account on Instagram.  You can view additional images there from this book.  You can also see a preview of the beginning at the publisher's website.

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