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TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER: 'Race the Wild Wind' is much more than a picture book

Imagine what it would be like if you were dropped -- thunk! -- on a desert island with a bunch of other kids.

Would you miss your comfortable bed and your favorite blanket? What would you eat? Where would you go if it got too cold outside, or too hot?

Many years ago, a big herd of horses were dropped off near an island off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. In the new book "Race the Wild Wind: A Story of the Sable Island Horses" by Sandra Markle, paintings by Layne Johnson, you'll find out how they survived.

Sometime long ago -- so long that nobody remembers -- a schooner filled with horses sailed near an island off the North American coast. Very carefully, the animals were lowered into the water and they swam frantically for the island.

Most of the horses were working breeds meant to pull plows and wagons. But one of the animals, a stallion, was bred to win races.

As they struggled ashore one by one, the horses were afraid and hungry. They smelled something good, and soon found grass that was so high it reached their bellies. This food wasn't quite as good as that which the pampered stallion was used to, but he was so hungry that he ate anyhow.

As warm days continued into summertime, the stranded horses made friends. Older horses formed family bands and others just hung out together. The stallion was still young, and having fun meant everything to him.

Soon cold weather arrived and the horses had to rely on their instincts. Grass was hidden beneath snow and water beneath ice. They learned to find what they needed to stay alive. They grew a little wilder.

Life was hard on the island, and when he found a band of mares whose leader had just died, the stallion took over the family quite easily. He was older then, more able to protect and defend his herd.

And when the ultimate test arrived on the waves of the ocean, he was strong enough to race the water and win.

Based loosely on a true story and author Sandra Markle's imaginings, "Race the Wild Wind" sure looks like a picture book -- it's the right size. But this is not the little-kid book that it seems to be at first blush.

While there's no doubt that preschoolers will love hearing this book read aloud, I think the narrative is better suited for gradeschoolers who will more easily grasp what's going on in this story.

Older kids, too, will be able to understand some of the more difficult concepts presented in the author's notes in the back of the book.

The illustrations are another matter. Layne Johnson's paintings are gorgeously lush, rich in color and detail, and impossible to stop browsing. The beauty of the pages may be lost on kids, and may be more appealing to grown-ups.

Overall, "Race the Wild Wind" is a great book, but be aware of your audience. For horse-lovers over age 7, this book wins by a nose.

"Race the Wild Wind" by Sandra Markle, paintings by Layne Johnson, copyright 2011 by Walker & Company, is 40 pages and sells for $17.99.

Contact book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer at www.bookwormsez.com