Markle, Sandra. 2011. Race the Wild Wind – A Story of the Sable Island Horses. Illustrated by Layne Johnson. Walker & Company, New York.

Review (ZL): This is a picture book about horses on Sable Island. A summary is provided on the flap:

When a band of horses is let go from a passing ship, a young stallion leads the herd to safety on a golden arc of land—Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia. The herd must endure a harsh winter before the warmth of spring brings new life and new foals. But when a fierce thunderstorm puts the horses in danger once again, only by racing the wild wind can they survive the trials of nature in their new island home.”

Among these horses is a young stallion who “gallops as though in a race he was bred to win”. The story describes the life of the horses as they experience the island through the seasons, and focuses on the young stallion’s role in the group’s survival.

The intended age group has been given as “read-aloud for young children”, and as for 5 to 9 year-olds. The tale, told in short bursts of text printed in a corner of each action-filled image, is exciting and likely to captivate a young listener or an early grade school reader. The images themselves—richly coloured paintings on double-page spreads—will make many a child want to leaf through the book again and again.

The story is based on a few historical facts, and imagination takes it from there. Overall it presents a fair account of what it may have been like for first horses on Sable Island. However, although the island is in the path of hurricanes and major winter storms, huge waves and high winds don’t whip up on the island in minutes. Also, the mares are as capable as a stallion in responding to severe weather—female horses would not need a male to guide them to safety.

But this is an adventure story, not a natural history text. The tale is compelling and is greatly enhanced by the Layne Johnson’s illustrations. At the end of the book, the author provides some useful background information about both the Sable horses and horses in general.

The 32-page book is illustrated with 14 full-spread paintings. The story is told in about 900-1000 words. The endpapers present a map of the island (another of Johnson’s paintings). With bright fluffy clouds and two birds in flight—a Northern Gannet and an Arctic Tern—the map gives the impression of a breezy bird’s eye view.

Hardcover (28 cm wide, 25 cm high)
ISBN 978-0-8027-9766-7 (hardcover); ISBN 978-0-8027-9767-4 (reinforced)

Note: Grey and dun-coloured horses are featured prominently in most of the illustrations. Although there may have been some greys and duns among the horses shipped to the island over a century ago, there are none on the island now. All present-day Sable horses are either chestnut, bay, brown, or black.