The friendship between a boy and a horse is explored in this picture book.
A newborn foal, struggling to rise, slips and becomes trapped in a badger hole. This tension-filled narrative beginning is agreeably softened by Eldridge’s airy, whimsical watercolor illustrations that give the moment a calm, problem-to-be-resolved feel. Sure enough, a man and a boy arrive and pull the unhurt foal to freedom, and the basic premise of the story is neatly set: The foal, named Red Badger, and the boy become friends, and they both dislike the ground. When Red Badger is grown, the boy tries to ride him but is bucked off. The boy laughs, but the man decides to sell Red Badger at auction. They are reunited much later at the rodeo where Red Badger is a bucking bronco and the boy has become a bronco rider. Cooper’s narrative is soundly constructed, full of poetic circularity, and the illustrations make an airy counterpoint, with plenty of white space to reinforce the idea of movement and open country. But the underlying presumption of the dominion of human over beast is an atypical theme for a children’s picture book, and readers may find the idea of Red Badger’s ending up as a bucking bronco in a rodeo less than nourishing.
A skillfully told, whimsically illustrated story of friendship, with a rodeo aspect that may limit its audience. (Picture book. 5-8)