I love that a reader talked to her mom about this book, and then they brought it to my attention. Published in 2011 it is book six in a popular middle grade series told from the horse’s perspective where each book features a different culture from around the world and is set in different time periods. This book is told from an Arabian horse’s perspective in the 9th century and details her growing up an orphan, trying to understand the Bedouin humans around her, and establishing herself as a war mare. Allah swt is mentioned quite often, as is Arab hospitality, and some guests at one point are briefly mentioned as they are on their way to Hajj. My problem with the story is the portrayal of the raids. I don’t know enough about Bedouin culture in the 9th century to opine on the accuracy of the raiding that would occur between tribes, but when juxtaposed with the humble God fearing, grateful religious people, blatantly stealing from the neighbors, it is hard to cheer for Yatimah and her humans at being thieves.
The birth of Yatimah takes the life of her mother, the beloved war mare of Nasr. Her loss puts distance between the Bedouin leader and the foal. Nasr’s daughter Safiya, however, has a soft heart for Yatimah and the two form a close bond. As Yatimah is accepted to nurse from another mare and grows with the companionship of her colt, Tawil, the two young horses show the reader how when the grazing starts to disappear in the desert, they are fed dates, and when those start to deplete they move to more fertile lands. Always on the move, they raid other camps to steal sheep, and camels, and horses as needed, and work to prevent other’s from stealing from them. Since the death of Yatimah’s mom, Nasr has not found a proper war mare, and thus the training of Yatimah begins. The climax is a raid that will give Yatimah a chance to prove herself and win over the still distant Nasr.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love the illustrations and the detail that often accompanies them. I also really appreciate the appendix at the end that gives information about Arabian horses, Bedouins, and war mares. I learned a lot about the specific strengths of Arabian horses, and why the Bedouins favored riding mares over stallions.
I liked that many of the exhausting stereotypes were not present in this book in regards to women. Safiya is a young girl at the beginning and then starts to wear hijab as she grows, but she is still free to come and go as she pleases it seems. Her father respects her and shows affection and kindness to her throughout. I just find the premise a little off that we readers, are hoping that Yatimah becomes the lead thieving horse. It mentions that it doesn’t make sense to the horses, but to have that be the whole point of the story, leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially when the story could have been developed in so many other ways to focus on something a little bit more positive.
Stealing, thieving, death, loss.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I think the book would be fine on a classroom bookshelf, but I wouldn’t highlight it unless I was prepared to discuss with young readers the culture and why perhaps this was such a part of the lifestyle. I would not want to perpetuate any stereotypes of Muslims, or provide a negative impression on readers that are drawn to these books because of their love of horses. I learned a lot by reading the books, but I worry what a 8 to 10 year old would take away about a culture and religion after reading such a story, I fear the word barbaric may arise.