Bastedo, J & S Tooke. 2007. Free as the Wind – Saving the Horses of Sable Island. Red Deer Press, 1512, 1800 – 4 Street SW, Calgary Alberta T2S 2S5. 32 pages.

Review (ZL): Author Jamie Bastedo’s text is greatly enhanced by the imagining and conceptualization of the story by artist Susan Tooke of Halifax, Nova Scotia. The book, 28.5 cm x 22.5 cm, features 16 illustrations, with roughly 1400 words of text. Also, a brief history (about 550 words) is provided in the front endpapers.

This story is based on the children’s letter-writing campaign that in 1960 contributed to reversing a government decision to remove the horses from Sable Island. The text presents many scenes that are reminiscent of photos in various books and websites about Sable. The writing is well-paced and engaging, although some readers have noted that the storyline is somewhat disjointed. For example, Blake, an unexplained character rounding up horses on the island, is portrayed as callous regarding both the horses and the boy. But when he appears again on the last page, Blake inexplicably applauds when the old stallion jumps up and knocks him over – Blake claps his hands and says “Good show, old boy!” And where did that silver horseshoe come from…?

Susan’s illustrations – her loose and airy style – capture the island’s expansive and breezy landscapes, as well as the exuberance of unfettered horses and terns in flight. Equally strong are Susan’s renderings of the more sombre and thoughtful moments in the story. This is a picture book for young readers, and it is a book of paintings. It will be appreciated by children and educators, and also by many people interested in Sable Island.

Some may notice, on pages 26-27, the painting on the wall in the boy’s bedroom – three green horses.