Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: The Winter Pony - Iain Lawrence

The Winter Pony by Iain Lawrence
Genre: Middle Grade, historical fiction, animal fiction
Published on November 8, 2011
Published by Delacorte
Pages: 256
Read From: 1.7.12 - 1.8.12

In the forests of Siberia, in the first years of the twentieth century, a white pony runs free with his herd. But his life changes forever when he's captured by men. Years of hard work and cruelty wear him out. When he is chosen to be one of twenty ponies to accompany the Englishman Robert Falcon Scott on his quest to become the first to reach the South Pole, he doesn't know what to expect. But the men of Scott's expedition show him kindness, something he's never known before. They also give him a name - James Pigg. 
As Scott's men hunker down in Antarctica, James Pigg finds himself caught up in one of the greatest races of all time. The Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen has suddenly announced that he too means to be the first to the Pole. But only one team can triumph, and not everyone can survive - not even the animals.


The Winter Pony completely outdoes Black Beauty when it comes to the sad factor. I knew this story would be depressing even before I began it, but I didn't really count on just how much it really would be. Told from James Pigg's point of view, we get a different sort of look at Captain Scott's South Pole expedition: from the pony's eyes. Iain Lawrence must understand ponies, because he captured the loyal hearts of these unique creatures perfectly - their intelligence, their quirky personalities, their love for work, their fear, and their undying love for those who care for them. I dare anyone, even if they don't care for horses, to say that they didn't fall in love with James Pigg.

And it is because of how well Iain Lawrence captured the ponies that this book is a real tearjerker. It has been a long time since I have had to read a book with a box of tissues nearby. I cried my heart out. Captain Scott's expedition was not successful, and the ponies suffered badly, no matter how much Scott's men tried to care for them. I formed a deep attachment to the ponies more than I did the human characters, but when the men were forced to kill or abandon their ponies one by one, I absolutely felt their pain in having to do so. There is not too much to be said about this book: only that it is unbelievably sad, and yet so very beautiful. The harsh and cruel beauty of Antarctica is so perfectly described through James Pigg's thoughts that I felt like I was actually there - and for once, I can almost understand why so many explorers went back, even though they knew it might mean their death (and it usually did). And I got to know the ponies of Captain Scott's party as well as my own ponies.

Job well done!

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