The Secret Horses of Briar Hill – Megan Shepherd/Levi Penfold



By Megan Shepherd
Illustrated by Levi Pinfold


ISBN: 9781406367584
Imprint: Walker
Distributor: Walker Australia-HEDS
October 1, 2016
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99

Just to continue on my ‘historical’ trail for the day, this is a simply beautiful novel which I read a few months ago and let slip down to the bottom of the pile (thank goodness for holiday cleaning frenzies!).

Set in Second World War England, Emmaline has been evacuated away from the bombs. But this is not just about escaping bombardment to safety, because Emmaline along with many other children of the time contracted tuberculosis. My knowledge of history is not deep for this period, despite having had a RAF father in Bomber Command and I certainly had never realised that due to the cramped and often unsanitary living conditions resulting from bomb devastation TB was rife, particularly amongst children.

Briar Hill Hospital in Shropshire has its fill of these poor kids many of whom were destined not to survive. Emmaline is not one of the worst – at first – and when she arrives she makes an amazing secret discovery. There are winged horses in the many mirrors at Briar Hill. Only she can see them and they call to her constantly.

She first discovers a beautiful horse called Firefox outside the mirrors and in the garden but it seems that she is not alone in this secret. The handyman Thomas appears to have some uncanny connection as well. Emmaline fights her disease but also begins a battle with the Black Horse, who wants to take the horses away. She writes to the Horse Lord – and he responds. But the Horse Lord cannot protect everyone and everything and soon Emmaline begins to see the purpose of the existence of the winged horses.

This is richly imaginative in both writing and illustrations, a wonderful and poignant tale of love and loss, the power of words and writing and fantasy.

Highly recommended for children from around 10 years upwards

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