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The Winter Horses Hardcover – March 25, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 6–8—This story follows the harrowing journey of Kalinka, a Jewish orphan searching for safety, and the horses that provide her with comfort, power, and hope. Set in 1941 in war-torn Ukraine, Kerr's novel is also a tale of survival-not only Kalinka's, but of Przewalski's horses, a rare breed of wild horse that dates back tens of thousands of years. The story opens on the Askaniya-Nova animal sanctuary where Max, the longtime caretaker, has been ordered by the SS to kill all of the animals, including the nearly extinct Przewalski's horses. As Max struggles with the demands of a cruel Nazi officer who has turned the reserve into his headquarters, he meets Kalinka who is travelling alone after witnessing the deaths of her family. With Max's guidance and support, Kalinka and the last pair of the horses embark on a jouney across the Ukranian wilderness. As Kalinka faces frightening obstacles, her ability to communicate with the horses and other fantastical elements give her the courage to face serious threats and her own fears. Threads of "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Hansel and Gretel" contribute to the sense that this is an "old" story handed down through generations. Like the best stories told around a campfire, it is spellbinding, but it can also be terrifying. Ultimately, The Winter Horses ends on a note of hope and triumph-for both Kalinka and the horses. Kerr's novel will be enjoyed by readers who like a touch of fantasy in their historical fiction.—Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA

From Booklist

The year is 1941. The place, Ukraine. After her entire family is murdered by invading Nazis, Jewish teen Kalinka finds herself alone on the vast Ukrainian steppe until she encounters two Przewalski’s horses. These prehistoric animals, depicted in ancient cave paintings, are the rarest horses in the world and have never been domesticated. But the preternaturally intelligent creatures quickly—and improbably—bond with Kalinka, and along with a Russian wolfhound named Taras, the three flee for their lives from the invading Nazis, who are determined to exterminate the horses, which they consider to be an inferior species. Their flight is a perilous one, as they are beset not only by the Germans but also by the forbidding winter weather, wolves, and even cannibals! Can they possibly survive these vicissitudes? Best-selling adult author Kerr presents his story as legend, not historical reality, which gives him the latitude necessary for his plot’s improbabilities and anthropomorphized animals. Though sometimes didactic and slightly contrived, the story is nevertheless engaging and exciting and is sure to appeal to horse lovers and fans of survival fiction. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: It’s big news that the best-selling author of the Bernie Gunther novels for adults has moved into children’s literature, and the full-court marketing campaign for this title reflects that. Grades 7-12. --Michael Cart
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Lexile Measure: 930L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (March 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385755430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385755436
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #319,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By M. Maxwell on March 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
More timely than the author and publisher could have known. I foresee some prize nominations. This book is magical and real, filled with love and death and hope. I was lucky to receive a review copy from the publisher, but I have just bought two copies to send as gifts. I wish I could see the author's note, for I am sure there is a personal connection for him somewhere.

At any rate: It's WWII. The Germans have invaded Russia. Young Kalinka is on the run after everyone in her village is killed by the Nazis. No one will take her in, for she is a Jew. Old Max lives in a cottage on a nature preserve (founded by a German). The horses, living history--the horses of the cave-paintings--take Kalinka under their wings, taking pity on her. Nazis come to the nature preserve.

War is a force that brings meaning to our lives--it reveals the worst and the best of the human character, and it's all on display here. Good and evil are everywhere, it's up to each of us to choose--and the natural world is caught up in the drama, too. Story is a wonderful vehicle for not only thinking about these things, but feeling our way to what our own reactions and answers will be as we grow into our futures. There are a couple of places where the dialogue seems stilted and unreal (fictional!), but the story is meant to be mysterious and compelling, and it is. The author never plays it false with feeling.

Keeping it on my personal shelves for re-reading. Highly recommended. For middle-schoolers, I would read as a class and discuss or make sure my advanced reader had somebody to talk to about it.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Teen Reads on April 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Reviewed by Rachel B.

Kalinka is an orphan. Nazis killed her family and she has been on her own ever since. Everyone she asks for help refuses her because they fear for their own life. Kalinka is an outcast among humans, but when she is among the wild Przewalski's horses at Askaniya-Nova, she feels at home. The horses are clever and loving, and soon Kalinka plans to stay with the herd for as long as she can.

Max is an old man who works at a Ukrainian nature reserve in Askaniya-Nova. He loves animals, especially the Przewalski's horses that run wild in the sanctuary. So when he is ordered to kill all the animals in the preserve, including the horses, to ensure that the invading Germans do not eat the animals, he refuses to do so. Max doesn’t understand why the German man who started the reserve --- the only man who was ever kind to him --- would kill the animals.

When the Nazis arrive on the reserve, Max realizes that he was wrong. Soon after they arrive they begin killing the animals for food. Then they hunt the Przewalski's horses because they are worried that the Przewalski’s will breed with their horses. Only two of the horses survive and one of them is injured. Kalinka knows she has to save the horse. But she cannot do this herself, so she turns to another lover of Przewalski's for help --- Max. Kalinka begins to view Max as a father figure, and they become very close through their struggles to save the horses. As the book continues, Max makes many sacrifices for Kalinka and the Przewalski's horses.

Although THE WINTER HORSES is labeled as historical fiction, I thought that it was mostly fantasy.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Blue in Washington TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 18, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
A tough book to categorize. Philip Kerr writes terrific WWII-era stories that feature German cop Bernie Gunther as protagonist. They are often violent, brutal even, dealing as they do with the atrocities that the Nazis inflicted on Germany and most of the rest of Europe over a decade or so. The same tenor continues in Gunther's postwar activities, as the action shifts to the Cold War with a range of countries, despots and criminals become the main players. This new Kerr offering transfers the violent action and extreme cruelty to a new group of readers.

With "The Winter Horses", author Kerr returns to WWII, and specifically the Nazi invasion of the USSR. But this time he is writing for a juvenile audience--subteens, I'd guess. There is wanton brutality involving children and animals involved here and that gives me some pause in calculating what is appropriate for readers of this target age group. Kerr's storytelling is more or less up to his usual standards, but his characters are skewed from satanic to saintly. The protagonist is a young Jewish Ukrainian girl who has lost her family to Nazi death squads. Her new family consists of animals (horses and a dog) who are given extraordinary powers of comprehension and expression. The leitmotif is, more-or-less, survival and escape to freedom.

The timing for the publication of this book seems a bit odd as the action is set in the Ukraine at a time when Russians were (and are portrayed as such) the good guys. The headlines of the moment give the book an ironic backdrop.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Baker Barr on July 15, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
World War II literature seems to be booming right now. The Winter Horses is another tale associated with the Nazis and the holocaust. Kalinka is a young Jewish girl fleeing from the Ukrainian village in which everyone she loves has been killed. She meets two magical horses, the last of their breed, and together they try to escape the atrocities of war.

I think this is a good book for middle school aged children that are interested in history and war and the human side of it. The Winter Horses allows a look into how the innocent and the children can be so strongly affected by the decisions leaders and governments make. The chapters are short, less than ten pages, and the story read fairly quickly. The subject matter and prose is appropriate for young teens or tweens. Overall, it’s a thought-provoking book for the young mind and a good way to open up discussion about the some of the horrors in history.
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