This book was a sleeper, sitting for the last three years in a paperback picture book basket. As I flipped through my basket, organizing books one day, I was intrigued by this book. You may have read that my first grade students board my library plane each week, taking trips to different continents and countries. Thinking that this book took place in Wyoming or Colorado, I was already to break out my state books. The fact that I was rushed and hadn’t read the book before I decided to read it to my students was quickly discovered as the horses in the book inexplicably reached the ocean. Last time I heard, there are no oceans in Colorado. My very forgiving students were happy to re-board our plane and head West, all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the island of Hokkaido in Japan.
This beautifully illustrated book by Tetsuya Honda is about the wild horses that live on the island of Hokkaido in Japan. These horses, according to the author’s note, were brought to the island of Hokkaido three hundred years ago, by merchants and fisherman. In the winters, the merchants and fisherman would abandon the island to go to the mainland, but left their horses to survive the harsh winter on the island. In this story, we see a colt and his mother brave the winter by sleeping in a snow drift as they try to find their way from the grassy inland to the ocean. According to the author, Dosanko horses are known to lie down close to the ground and allow the snow to cover them in an effort to stay warm. Over many years, yhe horses, known as Dosanko horses, adapted to the harsh winters gradually developing longer hair, shorter bodies and stronger hooves. There are now only about 1,000 of these horses, living mostly on wild horse preserves.
This book was a jumping off point for lots of discussion: about Japan, how animals adapt to harsh conditions, how the native tribes near the arctic circle sometimes use ice to build homes to stay warm and how you might stay warm if caught in a blizzard or avalanche.
The book really captivated my students. I recommend it for first through third grade audiences, or younger audiences at home.