Book Review: The Winter Pony
By: Iain Lawrence
Published By: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 2011
Page Count: 256
Audience: Middle Grades/Young Adult - Historical Fiction
I picked this one up at the library because this past school year I had a student who was crazy about horses. I kept trying to find things for her to read and thought this might be a good fit. I also love well done historical fiction and knew virtually nothing about the explorations to the South Pole. I thought I could kill two birds with one stone: find something for the student and learn something.
I did learn a lot about Scott's expedition to the South Pole. It amazes me that so long ago with such primitive technology (compared to modern standards), men were willing to brave the Arctic unknowns. I'm sure they were propelled by their sense of adventure, but I cannot imagine voluntarily going on a mission like this one. The hardships these men and animals faced were terrifying. This is not a happy go lucky story about a pony taking a romp in the snow. No, this novel left me in emotional shambles and is not one I would recommend to anyone who isn't ready to face the brutal environment of the South Pole.
My favorite thing about this story is that the pony, James Pigg, is the narrator. I was fascinated that Lawrence chose to write from this perspective instead of one of the men. I enjoyed rooting around inside of James Pigg's head to find out how the expedition affected the animals. It was a unique way twist to historical fiction and one I think many younger readers and adults alike will find appealing. James Pigg's perspective provided a chance for the reader to experience this journey in a far different than way than they would have with a human narrator.
I did appreciate that there were segments between James Pigg's story that filled in the historical details. These sections read more like nonfiction and provided me with the background I needed to truly understand the goals of the men. It also closed gaps in the story that could not be filled by James Pigg's knowledge.
My biggest issue with this novel is I found it to be terribly depressing at times. It was hard to make myself keep reading when I knew that the ending could not possibly be a happy one for all involved. It might be a bit too much for more sensitive readers. Hardship, animal cruelty, and death are common occurrences.
In spite of the amount of difficult material, there is also a lot of camaraderie and bravery in this story. The bonds between the men and the ponies shocked me. I didn't expect there to be such devotion between the two groups, but on more than one occasion, a man is willing to sacrifice his own life to save one of the animals.
I'd highly recommend this novel to anyone whose interested in the race to the South Pole, adventure/survival stories, and those who enjoy a well written, well researched piece of historical fiction.
One Last Gripe: I kept having to walk away from this one because of how depressing it got at times. I should have expected it, but it still punched me in the gut every time. Ultimately, it was what dropped the rating for me. It's a clear case of it's me, not you.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the structure of it. The balance between fact and fiction was superb.
First Sentence: The year is 1910, and a great adventure is beginning.
Favorite Character: James Pigg
Least Favorite Characters: The men who steal James Pigg from his herd
In the forests of Siberia, in the first years of the 20th 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's chosen to be one of 20 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 team hunkers 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 first to the Pole. But only one team can triumph, and not everyone can survive—not even the animals.