Life Lessons: The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble

girl who loved wild horses

Title: The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses
Author: Paul Goble
Illustrator: Paul Goble
Genre: Fantasy
Age: Children/Picture Book
Awards: Caldecott Medal

*Adapted from my MFA artist’s statement and first posted here on my personal writing blog

Life Lesson:
I was six years old and knew exactly what I wanted. I pushed through the large door, the curve of the metal handle four times as big as my palm and cool to the touch. My heart sped up, adrenaline flooding my system as I stopped and surveyed my second home. My sanctuary.

Enclosed by four towering walls and separated from me by one hundred and three footsteps worth of creaking, uneven wooden floor covered in time-ravaged berber carpet. The smell of age–of dust and paper and the slightest hint of vanilla–surrounded me.

The smell of books surrounded me.

I walked past towering shelves of library books, struggling to keep my feet to an appropriate, indoor pace when all I wanted to do was run to the children’s area in the back. It was separated from the rest of the library by a short, half wall that I was just recently tall enough to see over. When I stepped behind that barrier, countless worlds would open up to me, and the world of reality, of adults, would fall away.

My first stop, though, would be the same as always: straight to the back, one third of the way over from the left wall, in the middle of the second shelf, found under “JFic Gob”. Between the covers of this book, I would travel with a Native American girl as she tied her life to that of a wild stallion’s and, ultimately, was turned into a horse by the love she had for him.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble not only heavily features horses–a favorite animal from the moment I first laid eyes on them–but showed a pretty young woman–apart from but respected by her people–being carried away and transformed by her dreams. It ignited in me a desire to find my place in the world, a place so fully mine that I would be irrevocably altered by the formation and pursuit of this target. What it would be, I had no clue, but I did know that if I read The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses enough times, it would help me on my way.

Not that long ago, I was afforded the opportunity to reread the book, this time to my own daughter. We walked into our library and she began wandering amongst the shelves, fingers trailing over the spines of hundreds of books until her attention was caught by some unknowable signal transmitted through osmosis. She snatched the book off the shelf. It was The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble.

My heart sped up and I felt nearly giddy at the mere sight of it. We sat down on the couch, my daughter tucked under my arm, our heads as close together as possible. I opened the book, the protective cover crackling, and began to read. My daughter was silent as we were both swept away by Paul Goble’s storytelling. I was reminded of the dreams I had developed, achieved, dismissed, or was still working on. I was reminded that books could say so much more than the literal meaning of the words that compose them. Books focus the heart and encourage the mind. Books are the fairy godmother of reality. The fairy godmother we can fit in our pocket and take with us.

The Nitty Gritty:

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, which won the 1979 Caldecott Medal, is one I think every young child should have read to them: it provides a magical story, has gorgeous stylized drawings, and provides a rare Native American main character (although Goble has written many other books featuring Native American culture, legends, and main characters). There are also two Native American songs (one a Navajo song and one an Oglala Sioux song) included at the back of the book.

When I was younger, I loved the idea that I could be the girl, perhaps become a horse myself, but certainly connect to horses on such a deep level. Now that I am a mother rereading the book to my daughter, I was awestruck by the supportiveness of the girl’s parents and community: they had the strength to not only allow her to leave home, but to live in isolation with the horses, simply because they knew it was what would make her happiest. When she finally transforms into another species, they are still happy for her. There is no thought of themselves, that they wouldn’t get to see her or speak to her again or that they wouldn’t get grandchildren. They are simply happy because she is happy. Granted, there isn’t space in a children’s book to thoroughly explore the complex emotions of every person touched by the events of the story, but in this book, it is clear that the girl’s parents are truly supportive. And what better role model could there be for parenting?

My Rating: 5 Stars
I am sure my six-year-old self would have given it the same rating my children give their favorite books: 10,000 stars out of 5. Today, I am inclined to let my inner child out and happily award The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses 10,000 stars. In all seriousness, I would easily give this a 5 star rating and would recommend that everyone check out this, along with other Paul Goble books, the next time you head to the library or want a good gift for the young ones in your life.


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