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HORSEFLY by Alice Hoffman


by Alice Hoffman & illustrated by Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher

Age Range: 5 - 9

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7868-0367-3
Publisher: Hyperion

In Hoffman’s adult work, the intersection of fantasy and realism is sustained and the suspension of disbelief can be close to absolute (The River King, p. 585, etc.). However, her American-brand magical realism seems forced and close to ludicrous within the very real conventions of a picture book. Set at Cloud Ranch in an undisclosed Western state, a fearful girl lives with her wise grandfather. Jewel is afraid of horses (rather inconvenient on a ranch), but this changes when her grandfather gives her an abandoned undersized foal. She names him Bug, and he is dog-like in his devotion. Jewel had asserted that she would never ride a horse, but soon she begins to ride Bug with ease and enjoyment. One day she discovers that Bug is a special horse in another way—he can fly! A mean circus owner sees them fly and covets Bug for his menagerie. He and evil cohorts steal Bug; Jewel sets about to get him back. In a daring Big Top rescue, Jewel arrives on the scene (in circus costume), runs into the center ring, and jumps onto Bug’s back. It’s Happy Trails meets Happily Ever After when, at her word, he “unfurled his wings” and they dive bomb his kidnappers before they make their escape (with the other circus hoses following behind). The real high-flyers here are the well-modeled and skillful oil-painting illustrations. Johnson and Fancher (Cat, You’d Better Come Home, 1995, etc.) are marvelously adept at rendering figures in both shadowy dark interiors and dazzlingly lit fields under cloud-dappled skies. Avid riders or readers of equine fact and fiction will note that Hoffman blurs the pony/horse distinction here but if one already accepts that Bug can fly, well, can’t a pony be a baby horse? (Picture book. 5-9)