“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia • Picture book

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia
By Ted and Betsy Lewin

Spring 2008 • Lee & Low Books • Picture Book
Caldecott winners Ted and Betsy Lewin take readers to Mongolia for the incredible Naadam festival, where young jockeys race half-wild horses across the open steppes.
Story:“Giingooo! Giiiingoooooo!” Tamir and the other young jockeys sing to their horses in wailing, high-pitched voices. They are getting ready to ride in the Naadam, the Mongolian summer festival. Tamir is one of many boys and girls who will race half-wild horses across the open desert for honor and glory. It is these legendary child jockeys that Ted and Betsy Lewin have traveled to Mongolia to see. Who will emerge as the winner as the shimmering dust cloud of riders approaches the finish line?

Story behind the story: Before writing Horse Song, Ted and Betsy Lewin traveled to Mongolia to experience the Naadam festival firsthand. "We had read several articles about the Nadaam and it seemed to us that the story of the child jockeys would make a wonderful picture book," they said. "What interested us most was the fact that the jockeys are traditionally children from as young as seven years old. We were amazed at their skill and endurance."

In Mongolia, the Lewins stayed with a nomadic family so that they could see how horses and riders get ready for the race. While traveling, the couple kept daily journals and took hundreds of rolls of pictures in preparation for writing and illustrating the book. The main character, Tamir, is a combination of many of the young jockeys they met in Mongolia during their trip.

Horse Song was recently named an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a Parents’ Choice Recommended Winner for 2008. In a starred review, Booklist calls it “a handsome, heartfelt glimpse of a rarely explored culture.”

Check out an interview with Ted and Betsy.

FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.


Nikki Tate said...

I love this book - makes me all the more determined to visit Mongolia! Beautifully done!

Elizabeth said...

The pictures are beautiful as well as the story. I loved the story line and the suspense not knowing if the horse would make it to the starting line. It was unbelieveable that the horses would have to walk the 14 miles to the starting line and then run back to the finish line. What a fun book!

Lindsay said...

Horse Song was one of the most beautiful books I have seen in a while. The art really "made" the story. As I read, I kept noticing how the pictures directly reflected what the text was talking about.

For some reason, however, I had a hard time connecting to the plotline. I do realize that the main purpose of this book is to educate readers on the Naadam horse race but the story of Tamir just didn't grab me.

I think one of the most notable aspects of this book were the pages in the back that offer additional (nonfiction) information about the race. I did not know that this was the second oldest sport next to the Olympics.

I would have liked to have had more "story" about the actual race. The author could have really detailed the struggle between rider and horse and their quest to be the champion. I would like to have had more background on what winning the race really means for the youngsters. I understand it is a big honor, but why is it so important and how do others view the winners?

The artwork is amazing...the informational and art aspects of the book make it well worth it.

Picnic Basket Rating: 3 out of 5

Lindsay Horne
6th Grade Teacher
New Kent Middle School
New Kent, VA

Anonymous said...

I was looking forward to receiving a copy of Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia as a way of increasing the diversity of our library. This book is not disappointing in the fact that it introduces readers to an inside glimpse of Mongolia and some of their traditions, foods, ways of life. I appreciated the glossary and pronunciation guide in the back of the book and wished I would have found it earlier. Most of the illustrations were drawn to feel almost like real-life pictures while others looked child-like and distracted from the story. I think this would be a good read-aloud book to students that are studying other parts of the world. However, the instructor would benefit greatly from memorizing the pronunciations and definitions of the Mongolian words seasoned heavily throughout the book.

Picnic Basket rating: 2....Recommend Under Certain Reading Situations.

Julia Pitau, Media & Intervention Technician
Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

Carrie Blagg, Cherokee Elementary said...

"Horse Song..." captured my attention immediately through its beautiful illustrations. I understand the authors intention of sharing the events of the Naadam of Mongolia, but I would love to see them write a non-fiction or fiction book describing the event through the eyes of the rider. 5 out of 5!

ESnover said...

This book is wonderful at capturing many elements: cultural awareness, homes and family life, traditions, and values all while composed in the story of a horse race. I agree with some other reviewers who felt that the main character, Tamir, was difficult to connect to, and knowing that he is a composite sketch of many jockeys helps explain that. Further, I also felt that the interposition of the "cartooney" style illustrations did not add to overall feel and continuity of the other illustrations, which were beautifully done. Finally, I too was left wondering and wanting more information about the importance of the race to the family and culture in Mongolia.
3 out of 5

Eileen Snover
South Mountain MS
Grades 6-8
Allentown, PA 18014

jackie purificato said...

I really enjoyed this picture book. I liked that it was not finished so that I could show my students what the book looked like before the final touches were put on. The pictures were beautiful in this book. It is a great cultural book, and since we live close to Saratoga Racetrack we can use our connections to compare the story to todays racing. I would give this book a 4 in the picnic basket.
Consultant teacher

Lisa Kennedy said...

I had put off commenting on Horse Song because of my mixed emotions. Some of the illustrations were so beautiful that I was drawn to the story for that reason. However, for the most part I found myself trudging through the mongolian words. I never found myself cheering for Tamir. I just assumed that he would win. There wasn't enough of a story to make me think otherwise. The information at the back of the book was very helpful and interesting. That combined with the realistic illustrations certainly made this book likeable. Unfortunately, I can give Horse Song only a Picnic Basket 2 out of 5.

Barbara Duggan said...

The illustrations are stunning and the subject is one we seldom read about. Since there was so little plot, I would use this as a reference when studying that part of the world (then vs present) or maybe if comparing cultural recreation.
The last pages were helpful to my understanding, but since this was written for a younger audience, I'm not sure if they would ever make it that far into the book.

The characters were secondary to the events of the book and I'm not sure who would pick this book up to read.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Reading resource teacher

Elaine said...

This book is a "4" basket feast! Told in the first person from the perspective of the American observers, the story breathes with life and detail. The Lewin's transport readers into this unfamiliar world for the big Naadam event. This book will introduce young readers to an interesting experience a world away. The facts and glossary following the story are also excellent for extending the information presented in the story. Highly recommended as a read aloud or for independent reading.

jwelch said...

This book would be great for elementary students researching other cultures, but it wouldn't be so interesting as a read-aloud. The illustrations are beautiful!

Rating: 3

Anonymous said...

Horse Song it's the most beautiful books

Newman said...

"Horse Song" will certainly grab the attention of young readers from the shelf. It's beautifully done. However, as a picture book, there is a lot of information and the text is a bit higher level than I anticipated. Along with detailed information, the story begins quickly without much introduction to the narrators. The story moves along well enough, but it really picks up at the race. The illustrations are incredible, but the smaller drawings are done in a different style and don't match the larger illustrations well.

I recommend this book for an upper elementary class in social studies.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Kevin Newman
KIPP Austin Academy of Arts & Letters
Austin, TX

Heather S. Hill said...

I enjoyed reading the book. The illustrations brought everything to life, but also made you feel like you were taken away to a strange, exotic location. Since I had seen a special on Nat. Geo. about the yearly race, I was a bit familiar, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the Lewin's personal journey. This would be a wonderful read-aloud to talk about traditions in other cultures or countries.

I rate it a 4 out of 5.

Heather S. Hill
Reading Specialist
Sinclair Elementary
Manassas, VA

Lemon the Duck said...

I took the time to read this book several times. There was a lot of valuable information for me to absorb and each time I read it I learned more about the culture. The front and back matter was essential for me to really understand the people within the story. This book felt more like a photographic essay than a narrative story. The illustrations really gave the feel of the dry, oppressive heat of the outside and the the rich colors and comfort of the family's home. Some of the illustrations had a 3-D feel to them and I liked how some of the people in the illustrations seemed to look right at the reader. What a great book to showcase the culture of other families. Many children would have no prior knowledge of this type of way of life and this is a great first exposure.
I rate this book a 4 out of 5.

Laura Backman
Reading Specialist
Melville School
Author of "Lemon the Duck"

K. Sisson said...

The pictures are gorgeous and mesmorizing to look at. They really do help to tell the story. However, the text is quite difficult considering the format is a picture book. It is very informative and provides good insight into one small part of the Mongolian culture. The storyline however? It's a little lacking to my interests.

Picnic Basket Rating: 2 out of 5(Recommend under certain reading situations). This book would fit well in an IDU type of situation if a class was studying that part of the world.

kokomana said...

Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia
By: Ted & Betsey Lewin

In all honesty, I am not quite sure what to make of this book. The artwork is impressive and the story is interesting enough. But it just seems to lack the wow! factor. The mixing of the two illustration styles of the Lewin’s add interest, and the text is suitably descriptive, but Horse Song seems to be missing zip.

Based on my limited experience with it so far, it is also a hard sell for most of the students. The horse-crazy girls take it because it is after all, a book about horses and young riders. As for the balance of the students, the book is too hard for the picture book connoisseurs, but too simple a story for the older kids. So this book should be a fit for the high readers in 1st to 3rd grade, or low readers in 5th or 6th. It is not though, and I am not sure why. Overall, this is a nice book, and would make a good illustration example in a library lesson, but it will not be a particularly popular book for check-out.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Monica Bildner
Assistant Librarian
St. Rita School
Dallas TX

PLLoggerR said...

While I enjoyed the illustrations in Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia by Ted and Betsy Lewin, I found the text awkward. At times it was serious and detailed ("We duck out through the low doorway of the ger to watch the catching of a horse that will be used for riding."), telling of the authors' visit to Mangolia and the Horse Race; at others, it was more simplistic ("The horses are here! Look, the horses!") as if for a picture book. This constantly changing format / focus makes it difficult to determine the correct group to recommend this book to. The book would be useful for upper elementary students wishing a quick look at the Naadam and Mongolian life, or a teacher introducing Mongolia, but it is not a picture book for early elementary.
I give this a 3 out of 5, mostly because of the illustrations and the ger and Mongolian facts at the end.
Becky Jensen
Co-Director, Peacham Library

Rhonda McFarland said...

My group of 3rd graders have limited exposure to other cultures, so I'm always looking for books to share with them that present cultures in an engaging way. I found "Horse Song" to be a great book that fit my requirements and expectations. I loved having a reference section in the back that helped the kids and myself pronounce and understand a variety of aspects from the Mongolian culture. My kids were engaged from the first page to the last. Thank you for writing a unique and enjoyable book. I give it a Picnic Basket rating of 4.

Ursula said...

Fantastic illustrations. Interesting story filled with facts about a land we do not know so much about.

Rebecca said...

Great book, loved the illustrations and story line. Great read aloud for 2nd.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful book! The pictures enhance the story so as to draw children into imagining the whole event. The nonfiction pages are also worthwhile in helping children understand the features of another culture. I would give this book a 5 out of 5.

The Black Family said...

The pictures in this story are wonderful. I loved the imagery. The story itself was a little weak. I would have liked a little more background information on why the people were in Mongolia, etc.
Rating 4 out of 5.

Lindsey B.
Title I teacher, Utah

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