Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Winnie The Horse Gentler: Wild Thing

The first in yet another girl-loves-horses series, Winnie the Horse Gentler: Wild Thing is surprisingly fresh and winsome. Written by prolific children's writer Dandi Daley Mackall, Winnie the Horse Gentler combines realistic preteen attitudes, a tragic situation and one girl's determination to tame a wild horse with the message: "God in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty. Jesus didn't die for nothing." The result is an exciting, suspenseful story where we learn God is faithful no matter what.

Winnie and her sister, Lizzy, have landed in Ashland, Ohio after a long series of moves that began after their mother died. Life is rocky for Winnie, who feels guilt over her mother's death, has a strained relationship with her father, and relates to horses better than people. Lizzy is the only stable person in Winnie's life, and she does her best to protect and help Winnie, even though she is a year younger and afraid of horses. When Winnie stumbles across Wild Thing, (a beautiful, white Arabian mare), Lizzy convinces her to talk to their dad and come up with a plan to buy the horse and delay their next move. Lizzy desperately wants to start and finish sixth grade in the same school. They are joined in their efforts by "Catman," a 13-year-old neighbor with an unusual collection of cats.

Buying Wild Thing proves to be a difficult task. Winnie takes a job answering horse-related emails for a friendly, Christian pet store owner, in addition to mucking out stables for the Spidells (the richest family in town). However, finances aren't the only obstacle to owning Wild Thing. Winnie must gain Wild Thing's trust and make her believe she is loved. She also must counteract the harsh treatment Wild Thing receives at the hand of the Spidells, who seem to undermine any progress Winnie makes.

Throughout the book, we see Winnie struggle with her anger towards God for allowing her mom to die. This is countered by Lizzy's strong faith, and the verses on two needlepoint samplers Winnie's photographic memory has captured. The first, ("God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. Jesus didn't die for nothing,") is complemented by "For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. Psalm 57:10." By the end of the book, Winnie is on speaking terms with God again, and realizes that He still does answer prayers. She also has a breakthrough in her relationship with her dad, who unexpectedly supports Winnie in her quest to buy Wild Thing.

What I Like: My favorite aspect of the book is the way Mackall writes Winnie's internal thoughts and conversations with God. We see what it looks like to talk to God, even if you aren't very happy with him. We also see God show his faithfulness and we rejoice as Winnie's heart softens enough to receive God's grace and love. Winnie's thoughts and prayers are italicized in the book, which make them more obvious for younger readers.

I also like how well Mackall knows animals. She is an expert on horses, as well as dogs and cats. Mackall includes the questions from pet owners and responses that Winnie and her friends give on their email service. I was amazed at how much I learned! Winnie's friend Barker responds to Max who writes, "My dog hates me! I even get down on her level and stare into her eyes. But she just growls! Help! -Max." Barker responds, "Max- Your dog doesn't hate you! She's scared. In dog talk, staring means, 'Oh yeah? Wanna fight about it?' And don't get down on the ground with her. It scares her to see you change size and shape. Just love her. She'll love you back!-Barker."

I also like the Horse Talk, Horse-O-Pedia, and Parts of a Horse sections in the back of the book.

What I Dislike: Although Lizzy is a great younger sister, she does set the standard pretty high. I don't know many 11-year-olds who could be upbeat, encouraging, grounded in their faith and baste a ham with chunky peanut butter, all while looking beautiful and babysitting on the side! No wonder Winnie has a complex! In all fairness, however, maybe Mackall is showing us Lizzy through Winnie's eyes.

I also thought the ending was a bit predictable, but satisfying for the intended age group.

Overall Rating: Very good

Age Appeal: 8-12

Publisher Info: Tyndale Kids, 2002; ISBN: 10:0-8423-5542-1 ; Paperback; $5.99

Buy it Now at for $4.99

OR Buy it at for $5.99.

Special Info: My daughter, who just turned 8, was really sad the mother had died. There are references to the pictures Winnie has in her head "like the upside-down car and my mother's arm, limp as a ribbon over the steering wheel." The references are few and far between, but still could be disturbing.

Bookmark and Share

No comments: