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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bunny the Brave War Horse: based on a true story. Written by Elizabeth MacLeod and illustrated by Marie Lafrance. Kids Can Press, 2014. $18.95 ages 6 and up

"It was late winter by the time the soldiers and horses arrived in France. From there, they traveled to Belgium, where they joined the fighting. Their first day of battle would be one they'd never forget. Bud and Bunny rode toward the fighting."

When war broke out in Europe in July 1914, the Allied forces, which included Canada, were faced with the need for strong horses and riders to help with the war effort. Four police officers and eighteen horses were chosen from the Toronto mounted police force, and shipped to Europe early in October. The fought in their first battle in April 1915, after a long and miserably cold winter.

This war didn't need horses for cavalry charges; rather, they needed them for many other reasons. Millions of them were used to deliver messages, carry the wounded, pull ambulances and supply carts, and even to haul cannons and heavy artillery. They often responded with as much bravery as their riders.

Two of the police officers sent were brothers, Bud and Tom. Bud was Bunny's first rider. They faced the horrors of war together, until the day Bud did not come back from the front. When the captain relayed the news that his brother had died in battle, Tom was asked to ride Bunny. He did so for three long years, until the war ended in November 1918.

Bunny was the only Canadian horse to survive the fighting. When peace was declared, Tom was excited that the two would be going home together, until he learned that Bunny had been sold to a Belgian farmer. Tom never forgot the bravery of his grand mount.

It is interesting to note that Bunny's original rider, named 'Bud' for this story, was not on any of the records kept at the time.

As we search for stories to share with children about past wars, this story of bravery, love and loss will make a welcome addition. The quiet palette used by Marie Lafrance provides a realistic European backdrop for the obstacles faced, and the ravages of four years of fighting. Listeners' awareness of the real costs of war will be raised as they consider the fate of the brave horses sent to help.

 Elizabeth MacLeod does meticulous research, and we are better for it. Since she could not track down all of the facts for this story, she lets her readers that it is 'based on a true story.' On the other hand, she uses much of what she learned to make her story readable and poignant. It is a wide-ranging story and will allow for further discussion of many issues. Animal stories have tremendous appeal for children, and give them something special to inform their learning. This fine book ensures that Canada's participation in past world conflicts is remembered.

Back matter includes further accessible information concerning this Great War, and a map.

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