Wilson, Mark: The Little Wooden Horse.
** WILSON, Mark The Little Wooden Horse Windy Hollow, 2010 unpaged $28.95 ISBN 9781921136535 SCIS 1479316
Here is the justification for picture books for older readers in that both dramatic and moody illustrations of great emotional power go hand in hand with a straightforward but equally atmospheric narrative. This is the story of two orphans. The perceptive older Elizabeth takes the young Tom under her wing, both finding some beauty and emotional support even in the grinding conditions of the mill where they work fifteen hours a day. The responsive reader suffers vicariously first the wretchedness of the historic period, then the hell-hole of the hulk to which the children are assigned after Elizabeth grabs a loaf of bread from a baker's cart. The voyage to Botany Bay in 1787 via Rio de Janeiro, the horrors and sombre mood on board are graphically recorded and here shown with pictorial power.
While both text and illustration graphically detail the conditions in England along with the rigours of the voyages of the convict ships, this is a human story. There is tenderness in the caring of Elizabeth for Tom and in Tom's response through his carving for her of the little wooden horse that becomes a talisman and a symbol of hope and the enduring nature of the human spirit that can rise above base brutality. Readers, perhaps, do need a degree of experience and empathy to appreciate fully what this timely book has to offer.
** Book by an Australian author or illustrator