April 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

‘War Horse’: Novel, Play, Film, and App | Touch and Go

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Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse, the story of a young man reunited with his beloved horse on the battlefields of World War I, was first published as a children’s book in 1982, later became  a play, and in 2011, was released as a film. It’s now an enhanced book. In the introduction to this version, the author states that while many of his stories seemed “alright for fiction” they’re “pretty impossible.” (16 million horses were called into service during the conflict.) But three or four years after War Horse was published, Morpurgo was handed a book titled Many a Summer, written by a journalist named Hardiman Scott. The book is a portrait of a Sussex farmer, who as a soldier in France, found his adored horse. Notes Morpurgo, “If you are writing on the cusp of reality, in the end what happens sometimes is that some of the reality comes true.”


Transforming a book into an app begins with a solid story and Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse (Egmont, 1982; Touch Press/Illuminations, $6.99; Gr 5-9) has all the necessary elements. Young Albert lies about his age, enlists, and searches all over the Great War battlefields of France until he finds his beloved horse, Joey, which had been sold to the military. Albert and Joey fight part of the the war together with the horse as the poignant narrator, puzzling over and accepting the brutality and senselessness of World War I.

Screen from ‘War Horse’ (Egmont) illus. by Francois Place

An attractive, clearly organized home screen provides multiple entry points into Joey’s story. Swiping on the numbered 3-D water color illustrations across the top of the page lets readers select a chapter to open. In both portrait and landscape the pages of text dotted with those lovely illustrations fade in at the top of the screen and fade out at the bottom as readers scroll down. It’s easy to adjust text size, screen brightness, move between chapters, and to switch Morpurgo’s home-spun voice reading of the text on or off. Clicking on the timeline link at the top right side of the screen opens a column of images and key words that can be tapped to provide information about the war concurrent with the section of the story.

Touch Press developers are in tune with the  Common Core State Standards; the timeline connects readers to short, intriguing interviews, reproductions and maps, well-captioned archival photographs, and short informational text, much of which can be read aloud at the touch of an icon. Readers can also access the timeline content through the home page, choosing to browse through it all or to organize it by themes.”Insight” videos showcase the author discussing different aspects of his book and the war, and experts offering details about soldiers’ uniforms, tanks, battlefields, German trenches, war songs, and more—all accompanied by visuals.

From the home screen viewers can tap” Performance” to see the author stage an 80-minute, abridged version of the book with live music before an audience. Navigation is intuitive and elegant, with all the aspects of the app working smoothly together. So much to like!Chris Gustafson, Whitman Middle School Library Teacher, Seattle School District

For additional app reviews, visit SLJ’s Touch and Go webpage.


Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.