by Sophie Siers
Illustrated by Katharine White
The Gift Horse, written by Sophie Siers and illustrated by Katharine White, is the rural tale of a girl named Olivia and her family, following the loss of her mother. It is an important grief story, with lovely, relatable descriptions of sadness such as -
...in her bed where she can pull the duvet over her head and make the world silent around her.
and expressive metaphors like -
She feels like there's a balloon in her chest which is blown up so tight that there's no room for anything else. It squishes right up into her throat; sometimes she feels like she can't breathe.
The portrayals of feelings as they change - questioning why, being angry and feeling numb - will be so recognizable and validating to children experiencing loss or sorrow. All the grief stages, and the importance of one's unique walk through them, are thoughtfully referenced through Olivia's emotions.
People just don't understand. She would cry, but there aren't any tears. The big
balloon has pushed everything away and her heart feels empty inside.
In this backdrop, the arrival of a young horse, himself traumatized – a parallel to Olivia's character – is an uplifting, hopeful storyline. It's a special connection to Olivia's mother, who also had a way with horses, and a path towards feeling close with her again. It's also a chance for Olivia to find some catharsis and to help herself through this journey, in her own time and her own way.
The overall themes of grief and the healing of time and love are well handled in The Gift Horse. The illustrations really support the feelings, with dark pastel scribbles isolating bleak moments and whirls of moving, colourful pastel giving movement and life to turnaround scenes. They're appropriate for children in their style, as is the simple text, so there is a wide range in age appeal.
The ideas are universal, helpful and, of course, we all love a happy, hopeful ending.
Author: Sophie Seirs. Illustrator: Katharine White
Publisher: Millwood Press