Seabiscuit The Wonder Horse, by Meghan McCarthy
If you have seen the movie about Seabiscuit based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, you know almost all of the facts that are discussed in this book. That said, this book is being aimed at children who are likely unfamiliar with the movie, although it would probably be worthwhile for older children to watch the movie after reading a book like this, because the film examines some aspects of life (like brothels and quickie divorces) that are probably likely to be distressing and confusing for younger children. Be that as it may, the author provides a basic narrative of the events that made Seabiscuit such a beloved horse in the time of the Great Depression and even today in a way that is kid-friendly. And as is common in her drawing, the author manages to draw some really cute pictures of Seabiscuit and other horses, but especially Seabiscuit, that make him come off as very lovable to the reading audience. The ability to draw one’s subjects in an appealing fashion is a very underappreciated skill in illustration, and the author manages to have that skill in spades and to demonstrate it well here.
The author sets this story about a wonderful but initially unrecognized horse in the context of the Great Depression, where horse racing was a way that people chose to escape from the economic troubles of the time. After presenting Seabiscuit as a lazy horse who loved to eat and sleep but not race, the author introduces the owner, trainer, and jockey who made sure that the horse lived up to his potential, and demonstrates the ways of horse psychology including counteracting loneliness, providing motivation, and demonstrating friendship, that allowed Seabiscuit to blossom. The racing career of the horse and his famous duel with War Admiral, a triple crown winner, as well as the successful closing race of the horse and jockey after both were considered to be out of it because of leg injuries, is also detailed before the author discusses the historical context and research undertaken for the creation of this book. The end result is a short but immensely appealing book that is aimed at younger readers and is filled with really cute drawings that make horses and riding appealing for young people. It should be noted that horses are a particularly easy animal to make appealing to children, and the author does well here.
It is unclear if the author has any particular ambitions with this book. The author uses Hillenbrand’s book and various primary documentation from Seabiscuit’s racing career (mostly a few articles from Time and the New York Times) as sources. Seabiscuit, though, is the sort of horse that many people can identify with. Somewhat down and out and definitely a bit out of the mainstream, misunderstood and long mistreated, a horse like Seabiscuit is a reminder of the importance of bloodlines in horse racing as well as the need for people to understand the complexities of horse psychology. It is not coincidental that even in contemporary times horses are used as therapeutic animals to help children who have suffered abuse because of the high levels of empathy and bonding that horses can have with people, recognizing those who are kind as opposed to those who are cruel. By shining a light on a story of a horse that blossomed under the kind and understanding care of a quirky group of people outside the mainstream of the horse breeding world, the author subtly points out the way that horses and human beings can be greatly misunderstood but can rise to heroic levels of achievement when nurtured properly. If that is an agenda of the author, it is certainly a worthwhile one.