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Book Review

This historical fiction/animal story by Michael Morpurgo is published by Scholastic, Inc., and written for kids ages 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Although this book is not part of a series, the author wrote a prequel to War Horse (published in 1982) called Farm Boy (published 1997).

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

In 1914, a colt named Joey (who narrates this tale) is sold to a drunken farmer. The farmer's 15-year-old son, Albert, is thrilled. He names and cares for Joey and protects the animal from the farmer's drunken rages. When the family begins to feel the financial impact of war, Albert's father secretly sells Joey to an army officer named Captain Nicholls. Albert finds out and begs the captain to let him join the army. Albert is too young, but Nicholls promises to take good care of Joey for him.

True to his word, Nicholls treats Joey well and sketches him for Albert. He is proud of his new horse. Though Joey still fondly remembers Albert, he grows to like his new life and master. He develops a friendship with another horse, Topthorn, who belongs to Nicholls' friend, Captain Stewart. The horses and men are shipped overseas for battle. Departing the ship in France, the soldiers witness the sorrow and injuries all around them. They soon face their own battle, and Captain Nicholls is killed.

A young trooper named Warren becomes Joey's new owner. Joey and Topthorn do well in battle, but the Germans capture Warren and Stewart and their mounts. Though the horses no longer have the honor of serving the cavalry, their duties of pulling carts full of wounded German soldiers earn them praise and good care from the men. An old farmer and his granddaughter, Emilie, dote on the horses as well. When the German army moves out of the area, Emilie and her grandfather get to keep the two horses. Joey and Topthorn are content to work the farm until another band of soldiers takes them. They become workhorses under worse conditions than they've ever experienced. They grow thin and weak but are nursed back to health in the spring by a man named Friedrich. Joey is devastated when Topthorn dies of exhaustion and Friedrich dies in battle later that day.

Alone and frightened, Joey gets injured on a barbed fence and wanders into "no-man's-land" between the German and English camps. One man from each side comes out to help him. During the two soldiers' brief discussion, they realize they are very much alike and that the war might be needless if two people like them could just sit down and talk it out. The English soldier wins the coin toss for Joey and takes him back to camp.

Joey is reunited with Albert, who is now an army veterinary orderly. Their joy is short-lived when Joey begins showing signs of tetanus from his wound. Albert begs for and receives permission to nurse the horse back to health. Slowly, Joey regains his mobility. As the war ends, Albert's officer announces the horses will not be returning with the soldiers but will be sold in France. All of Albert's fellow soldiers pool their money, but they're not able to outbid an old German man who buys Joey. The man, Emilie's grandfather, tells Albert how Emilie lost the will to live after the horses were taken. His deathbed promise to her was to make sure Joey was cared for. He sells Joey to Albert for one penny, as long as Albert promises to share Emilie's story so her life will not be in vain. Joey and Albert return home.

Christian Beliefs

Trooper Warren prays aloud in battle, but his prayers soon become curses as he witnesses the carnage of battle. Emilie's grandpa tells Joey and Topthorn that Emilie prays for them every night. A soldier says there is divinity in horses, and God got it right when he created them. When German and English soldiers both want Joey, one suggests that King Solomon had an answer but it wasn't very practical in this case. Albert says he asked God to help him save the horse because, when it's all said and done, it's up to Him.

Other Belief Systems

When Emilie becomes gravely ill, her grandfather tells Joey and Topthorn that, if they can understand him, they should pray to whatever horse god they pray to. When the girl recovers, he thanks the horses because he's sure they prayed. An English soldier says rugby is his religion. A German soldier says God only knows why the opposing forces are trying to kill each other, and it seems even He has forgotten why. A sergeant tells the veterinary corps that a horse's life may even be more important than a man's because a horse doesn't have any evil in him except what man has put there. Albert recalls a Sunday school teacher telling him, "God helps those who help themselves." He was impressed by her knowledge of Scripture.

Authority Roles

Albert's father is often drunk. He beats his animals, sometimes threatening more severe harm. He apologetically changes his behavior and stops drinking after selling Joey. Albert's mother makes excuses for his father, saying he drinks because he's afraid of losing their farm. Most people Joey encounters on either side of the war, including Captain Nicholls, Warren, Emilie and others, admire and take good care of him.


There are several uses of h--- and the Lord's name is taken in vain. There are several minor exclamations of what the devil. The story takes place in wartime and mentions a number of battles and injuries. None of the scenes are particularly graphic.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review for War Horse.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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