Friday, November 28, 2014

Bunny the Brave War Horse by Elizabeth MacLeod and Marie LaFrance

Bunny the Brave War Horse is an exquisitely illustrated picture book about a very sombre topic, The Great War, which began one hundred years ago in 1914. The focus of this book for children in Grades 1 to 3 is the true story of a war horse named Bunny.

Bunny is a strong, well trained police horse so named because of his long ears. However,despite his strange ears, Bunny has a reputation for being very brave. Bunny along with all of the police horses  are shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe for the soldiers fighting in the Great War.

When Bunny was a police horse he was ridden by Officer Thomas Dundas. Thomas now follows Bunny overseas with his brother, "Bud" who is given Bunny to ride.

Bunny, Bud and Thomas arrive in France and then travel to Belgium where they experience their first battle. This battle sees poison gas used on the soldiers and their horses with many wounded. War horses like Bunny performed many tasks, pulling ambulances,  supply carts and cannons and artillery.  When Bud is killed in a battle, Thomas is given Bunny to ride. During this difficult time, Bunny is a comfort to Thomas. Eventually the war comes to an end on November 11, 1918. Thomas has earned many medals, partly because of his excellent war horse, Bunny. However, Bunny like many war horses, is unable to return to Canada, instead like the other war horses, he is sold to a farmer in Belgium.

Bunny encountering mustard gas on the front lines.
Bunny the Brave War Horse tells the true story of Bunny who was part of the mounted police force of Toronto, Ontario. Bunny was one of eighteen horses sent by the force to fight in the 9th Battery Canadian Field Artillery. Thomas Dundas was a real constable in the Toronto Police force and his brother also served. Bunny and the Dundas brothers along with many other soldiers were on the battlefield at Ypres, Belgium when the Germans launched the war's first poison gas attack. Many soldiers died and most of the horses that were shipped from Toronto did as well.

What the illustrations in the picture book do not show, is that World War I was fought using trench warfare - something different from previous conflicts. In the past horses were an integral part of battles which consisted of cavalry charges. Horses however were still very important to troops performing many different duties.

Bunny the Brave War Horse does touch on some of the realities of war though. For example, during one battle, conditions are described as "the sky was midnight black. Drenching rain and thick smoke from the guns made it almost impossible to see. Bombs exploded all around. The noise was terrifying." When the supply wagons cannot reach the troops in the field because of the rain and mud, the horses and men go hungry. "Tom visited Bunny in the stable one nigh. He noticed that the horse beside Bunny was shivering. The horse had been so hungry it had eaten its blanket."

This is an excellent picture book that accurately portrays a little bit of Canadiana in a readable, interesting manner.

Marie LaFrance's beautiful illustrations are rendered in mixed media and Photoshop. LaFrance is an award winning illustrator whose art appears in many different publications. You can learn more about Marie at Kids Can Press.

Book Details:
Bunny The Brave War Horse by Elizabeth MacLeod and Marie LaFrance
Toronto: Kids Can Press               2014

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