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A Race to the South Pole

The Winter Pony is reviewed today by Krista Jefferies.

Iain Lawrence’s The Winter Pony ($16.99, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, ages 9-12) is an adventurous tale of the historic race to the South Pole by two explorers in the early 1900s. While the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, used a team of dogs to help haul his supplies across the icy terrain of Antarctica, Englishman Robert Scott used white ponies, which were his downfall for a number of reasons. Though the story gives small excerpts from the real-life journals of Amundsen and Scott, most of the story is told from the point of view of one of Scott’s ponies, which the men nicknamed Jimmy Pigg.  Jimmy brings us into the mind of a majestic animal helpless to escape the life he was made to bear.

The beginning of the story depicts how the ponies were initially captured from a field and put to work as laborers, hauling heavy cargo and being abused by their masters. The rest of the story describes, as accurately as possible, the hazardous and inhumane experiences of the ponies during this treacherous expedition, the bond they develop with their caretakers along the way, and the heartbreaking outcome for these unique and lovely animals. As a reader I accepted the literary license Lawrence took with some aspects of the storytelling and became invested in the book. I found myself rooting for these animals and hoping they would survive.  Though the reality of the story is quite sad, I did enjoy reading it because of the history it involves and the message it offers to any reader today. It’s a poignant reminder that animals are marvelous creatures of nature that should be cared for, respected, and free.  For some readers, it may inspire them to become animal activists in the future, for others it may arouse an interest in history or geography. Either way, it opens up a great dialogue for young people to have with their parents, as well as an opportunity for kids to develop the gift of empathy.

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