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Center for Children’s Literature

“We Need a Horse” by Sheila Heti

We Need a Horse

A pair of books from a publisher I didn’t know about, indicates a very impressive commitment to doing high quality children’s books that are unusual.  Each comes with a heavy weight jacket, which when unfolded reveals a poster which stretches to an impressive 26 ¾ inch square. 

Artist Rojas has done an interesting abstract hard cover which leads to the first page beginning the story of the speckled horse.  The horse notices an enigmatic bright light, and he poses the question, “What is the reason I was made a horse and not some other animal?” The surprising answer from the light is “because we needed another horse.”  Simple shapes are highly patterned as the horse journeys to discover in a panoramic view of a field the many different animals he will encounter later in the story.  Each is doing something quite unexpected.  For instance, a sheep is able to play tennis.  Each of the animals is equally able to do unusual things.  The refrain “we made you a ____ because we needed another ___” is repeated throughout the story.  At the end, the horse understands that the benefit of being happy with what you are outweighs yearning to be something you are not.

Unlike the Martin book*, which is primarily double page spreads, in Heti’s book, artist Rojas has provided single page art facing a page of text.  The art is bled to the page edge, a quite different design format than the Martin book.  There is more text in Heti’s book while Martin relies more on her own art to carry the story line.

While these two are certainly not immediately appealing to a wide child audience, they are well worth introducing to children. Visual taste, as taste in music, often develops slowly as result of guided looking or listening.  The publisher has made a calculated commitment to quality book making.  Hopefully enough teachers, librarians, and parents will sense this quality to make more books like this come from the publisher.

* The other book by Amy Martin is available under the author’s last name on this website.

Author: Sheila Heti

Illustrator: Claire Rojas

Publisher: McSweeney’s McMullens, 2011

Reviewer: John Stewig, Carthage College

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