I know, I know, I promised you interviews on Tuesdays and here I come with a book review. This is a book of passion and courage; a book championing, as I often do on my blog, the rights of other species with whom we share our planet. This is a book I will introduce to my east coast students to help them appreciate the incredible species diversity in this nation, a diversity we must actively protect.
Title: Wild at Heart
Author: Terri Farley
Photographer: Melissa Farlow
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, Harcourt Publishing, 2015
Themes: wild horses and burros, endangered species, mustangs, conservation
Awards: A Junior Library Guild Selection
Dusk sneaks over the Bronn ranch. Shadows darken the Nevada hilltops, spill down their sides and press against the bedroom window where ten-year-old Velma stands watching the mustangs.
It’s almost dark. Velma knows that wild horses feel safest in the half-light. She sees them in the cool mornings when she gets up. they graze on the range that stretches flat and brown-green outside the gates of her family’s ranch. When she feeds the chickens as the sun comes up, she glimpses wild horses drinking from the nearby Truckee River. The river chuckles against its banks, and red-winged blackbirds sing as if they are happy to share the sunrise with the mustangs.
America’s mustangs are disappearing. Since 1971, over 300,000 mustangs have been rounded up and removed from the west. Wild at Heart sweeps the young reader onto the range and into the heart of the bands of these stunning yet endangered horses of the west. It offers a thorough, detailed view of the issues surrounding these creatures: their habitat, their way of life, their physiology and group dynamics, as well as and their perilous existence alongside man. Mustangs have thrived in the West, from the Yukon to the tip of South America on and off for thousands of generations. But now they are under attack from notably farmers and ranchers who see them as threats to their livelihood.
The fight to save America’s mustangs begins in the 50’s when Velma Johnson encounters her first wild horses taken from the range for slaughter. Their fate over the following decades is pursued. The possible outcomes for these mustangs include: adoption for a tiny minority, life in long-term holding pens, sale for slaughter and free roaming on the range for a handful.
Despite the the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horses and Burros Act these magnificent wild animals are still in danger. Courageous young people, alongside many adults, are trying to stop the round-ups and the senseless killings, and the last six chapters are given over to these tween and teen narratives. These youngsters in the west are standing up to the government and big business to save these wild animals and their habitats. The activists are coming up with practical solutions often ignored by those in power. Through personal stories, prehistory and history (the reintroduction of the mustangs by the conquistadores in the 15th century), cutting-edge science and full-color photographs, Terri Farley and Melissa Farlow invite readers into the world of the mustangs in all its raw beauty. The author shares her own and many other eyewitness accounts, some quite brutal, of the fate of these animals.
Why I like this book:
This is an extensive account told in a narrative voice that is both poetic and factual; and born of a passion that does not allow the reader to remain neutral. There is a lot of detail and this is a nonfiction book born from deep research and personal experience. I have ridden as a child, but riding ponies on English country lanes while giving me a love and awe for horses gave me only rudimentary facts about them.
For the past two summers I have had the honor of staying with friends in Nevada with a heart for this cause. I have been fortunate to see local bands of wild horses on both occasions. A wounded stallion I saw gave my friend the opportunity to explain a little about the stallion’s status in his band and the roles of the mares and any opposing males etc. I was fascinated but boy I learned a whole lot more about these animals and their homeland through these 196 pages. Their personalities and noblesse come to life through the anecdotes and facts. Anatomy, prehistory, physiology, evolution, courage, commitment, all the different groupings (bachelor gangs etc)… And then I confess there were aspects of their brutal treatment in traps, roundups, deprivations etc where I couldn’t read to the end. I suspect there will be some young readers as sensitive as I am to these graphic passages.
I don’t agree with reviewers that suggest this book is only for horse loving kids, while it most certainly will have a strong appeal to this population, the truth about the threat to these mustang and burrow populations and the clarity and passion of the message will touch any compassionate human heart. Wild at Heart will provoke tears and awe, and I hope will spur some to rise up alongside the youngsters profiled in this book, in defense of the freedom of these animals.
Melissa Farrow illustrates all this through her haunting and mesmerizing photography, vividly portraying the story of greed-motivated cruelty, animal grandeur and young activistm bringing hope to this endangered spices.
This is fast-paced, factual and full of heart. Highly recommended for young activists, horse lovers and anyone concerned with the rights of animals.
- There is a very useful pictograph to demonstrate visually the length of time horses were absent from North America (geological time converted into a 24 hour clock.) The book has a glossary of terms at the back, as well as Chapter Notes and Resources, a Bibliography and an Index.
- This teacher’s guide is available from the author’s website.
- I suggest following the author on Facebook as she shares daily updates about the plights of individual horses and bands and ways we can be involved. Terri Farley
- The author recommends these two weskits for reliable news, statistics and resources: Wild Horse Preservation and The Cloud Foundation
- Terri Farley’s website
- Melissa Farrow’s website