23 May 2014

King of the Wind: 1949 Newbery Award

In March of 2014, I started a new undertaking: reading every single Newbery Medal Winner book. A number of them I have read in the past, but I am reading them with fresh eyes,and reviewing them for others. I am not reading them in order, as some will require some effort on my part to find them all. Want to keep track of which books I read? Check them out at Confessions of a Wannabe Reader!
King of the Wind.jpg
Cover of the book - used for identification purposes only under the fair use clause
Sham and Agba: Finding Their Way

"When Allah created the horse, he said to the wind, 'I will that a creature proceed from thee."

Agba is a mute orphan and slave horseboy to the chief groom of the Sultan of Morocco.  His favorite mare has died, so he raises her little colt, a horse the color of gold he names Sham.  Sham soon become the fastest horse in the Sultan's stables and is chosen as one of six Arabians to be given as a gift to the King of France.  But because the horses are small, the King of France sends them away.  Thus begins Sham and Agba's long journey to find greatness in Europe.  They journey to England, where the Earl of Goldolphin lives and become part of his estate.  But can Sham, with the help of the mute Agba, show his potential?

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, is based on the real story of the Goldolphin Arabian, who was used in the mid-18th century to help found the modern thoroughbred race horse.   The tale is a fictionalized account of his biography.

The tale reminded me of a cross between Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist and Anna Sewell's story Black Beauty.  The tale is the classic story of a bond between a boy and his animal, for better or for worse.  In this case, it is between the beautiful bay horse Sham and the boy who follows him everywhere, Agba.  Agba cannot speak, but he can communicate with Sham in a way in which no one else can understand.  He also learns to understand both English and French in the story, though it is unclear how.  They become impoverished and beaten down, and at one point are left to fend for themselves in the wild, only to have some good fortune smile down on them once more.

I had read a number of Marguerite Henry's books as a fourth grader when I went through a phase where I was horse crazy, but this was the first time reading this particular tale.  While is was a sweet story, it felt a bit contrived for me. The character of Agba seemed to be written into the story to give someone other than the horse the point of view for the story, and it bothered me a bit.  If you love horse and horse tales, this is a good read, otherwise it would bore you a bit.

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