I was immediately drawn in by the cover of this one. It is just so beautiful that I had to get my hands on it. Now that I think about it, it reminds me of one of my childhood favorites. Into the Land of Unicorns by Bruce Coville.
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd takes place in the English Countryside. All the children have been evacuated from London and other larger cities and sent to estates in the country to ride out the war. Children who are sick are sent to special estates and that is where we find Emmaline.
Emmaline is special; she sees winged horses in the mirrors of Briar Hill Hospital. Emmaline keeps this world behind the mirrors secret even as the other boys and girls tease her for being strange. One day Emmaline climbs into an abandon garden on the grounds and there she finds one of the winged horses injured and stuck in her world. Charged by the Horse Lord to protect Firefox from the evil dark horse, Emmaline works to build a shield of color to protect her friend.
Can Emmaline keep Firefox safe? Can she find enough color in a world of grays and browns? And can Emmaline overcome the stillwater in her chest and ride true?
This was a lovely little book, reminiscent of The Secret Garden, The Little Princess and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The authors see a time in history where families are pulled apart and inject a little magic into the mix.
Emmaline is as brave as a little girl can be. We get a sense that she has dealt with real tragedy in her short life and yet she is able to find light in a dark world. She fights against the stillwater (tuberculosis) and refuses to give up.
This book deals with some pretty strong themes in a way that won’t scare or overwhelm young readers. We get yet another glimpse into WW2 and those who were left behind. There are bullies and rationing. And Emmaline loses one of her only friends at the hospital to tuberculosis. Throughout all of this, the book never loses it’s feeling of hope, that all is not lost. We are also left with a little magic as we wonder if the mirror horses are real or just in Emmaline’s head.
This would be a good book for 5-6 graders. It is also a middle school read that adults will love. With a quick pace and a hopeful tension, this is a book you won’t want to put down. Ultimately, The Secret Horses of Briar Hill took me back to some of my favorite childhood reads and that is why it gets 5 stars.
That’s all for now!