Goble, Paul. 2003.
Mystic Horse. New
York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 0-06-029813-8.
Based on a Pawnee story
published in1889, Mystic Horse is a well-written, memorable tale about kindness and forgiveness. A poor Pawnee grandmother
and her teen-aged grandson walk behind the tribe because they do not own a horse. One day, the grandson finds a sick, “worn
out” horse and heals it through love. The magical horse rewards the young man by helping him gain status for bravery
in battle. However, the boy does not listen to the horse’s advice, and
the horse dies. The grandson mourns the horse and is truly sorry for his actions. The Father above takes pity, and the horse
comes to life, rewarding the young man with a herd of horses. The grandson shares the horses with his grandmother and his
tribe, and the two main characters are never poor again.
The text and the illustrations
are well researched. Goble provides references, author notes, and a related song and legend. Featuring various hues of brown,
blue, green, and gold, the attractive illustrations still seem fresh after repeated viewings. In Goble’s usual style,
humans are portrayed from a side or rear view. Using mostly two-page spreads, Goble creates illustrations that complement
and extend the text by providing numerous details about flora, fauna, clothing, weapons, housing, landscape, weather, and
emotions. The illustrations of horse herds are particularly memorable, featuring
patterns and movement on the page. Etched in white, the herd portrayed on the end pages has an otherworldly quality. Ken and
Sylvia Marantz write, “Goble’s distinctive style, done in pen and ink, watercolor and gouache, uses white outlines
and opaque hues to present a spirited visual tale …” (Children’s
Through words and illustrations,
Goble provides many cultural markers that accurately reflect the story’s time period. Through text, he addresses names,
housing, lifestyle, battle behavior, religion, extended family, values, and philosophy. Through pictures, Goble addresses
skin color, dress, hair styles, housing, weapons, authentic native designs, environment, ceremonial dress, symbols, and harmony
with nature. He does not refer to music or specific celebrations. When going into battle, Pawnee men wear war paint, other
decorations such as beads, various hairstyles including one long braid, leggings or a half garment on the bottom, and so forth.
Warriors carry spears, bows and arrows, or hatchets. People live in tepees that they move from place to place. Horses
are an essential part of Pawnee culture, and those without a horse are considered poor. The ending tells us that the grandson
takes good care of his grandmother until she dies, just as she took good care of him in his youth.
Combining the “mythical
and earthbound worlds,” this tale does not spell out all the details (SLJ,
2003). While an author note tells about animals that come from the spirit world, the reader must decide if that is where
the grandson’s new herd is “born.” Goble provides exciting
action and lovely descriptions, such as his description of the herd: “horses of every color - beautiful bays, chestnuts,
shiny blacks, whites, grays, and paints” (unpaged). Readers ages 8 and
up will turn the pages eagerly to find out what happens in this unpredictable tale. Younger children will enjoy having the
story read to them.