Not Bad for a Bad Lad

illus. by Michael Foreman. 109p. photos. notes. Piccadilly Bks. May. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781848124714.
Gr 4–6—The author of War Horse offers another work about the healing power of horses. A boy, named to readers only as a "bad lad," is sent to Borstal, a youth detention center, after a young life of truancy and crime in postwar England. The boy begins working at the local stables and discovers a love of horses, along with insight into navigating human relationships. Caring adults who mentor his talents help him become more than a "bad lad," and the book ends triumphantly with the boy becoming a drum major in the royal cavalry regiment. This is a short, simple tale, with a conversational, informal tone. There are plentiful illustrations of a variety of sizes. They depict the action in a whimsical cartoon style, given some poignancy with gentle watercolors. Despite the minimal text and abundant illustrations, the content may be too sophisticated for younger readers. The protagonist is a teenager, and the text contains a few unexplained Briticisms and historical references, along with instances of corporal punishment. The volume concludes with historical notes about the history of Borstals, the Suffolk Punch horse breed, and horses in the military, as well as photographs.
VERDICT The large number of illustrations make this powerful story a high-interest and accessible option for upper-middle grade readers.

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