My husband’s the only person I know who didn’t cry at War Horse. Everyone else wept buckets - during the play, during Steven Spielberg’s lavish, Oscar-nominated movie or (in my case) both. Actually, I think the Times reviewer who reported on the New York film premiere got it just about right when he said: “If you don’t cry in War Horse, it’s because you have no tear ducts.”
But up until this week I didn’t realise that Michael Morpurgo wrote a sequel to War Horse back in 1997. It’s called Farm Boy and HarperCollins Children’s Books, who published a new edition ahead of the film release, kindly sent me a copy.
Farm Boy is set in the same Devon village as War Horse and continues the tale of heroic horse Joey ("strong as an ox, and gentle as a lamb") and Albert, his owner.
The story is narrated by Albert’s teenage great grandson, who lives in London but spends most of his holidays in the countryside with his beloved grandfather, Albert’s son. He loves hearing tales of how Joey was sold to the cavalry and sent to the warfront in France and how 14 year old Albert was so distraught he joined up to find him.
“Now there’s millions of men over there, millions of horses, too,” writes Morpurgo. “Needle in a haystack you might think, and you’d be right. It took him three years of looking, but he never gave up. Just staying alive was the difficult bit.”
Former children’s laureate Morpurgo movingly portrays the bond between grandson and grandfather, particularly as the old man reflects on the past and reveals a secret he’s kept to himself for years. He’s wonderful too at evoking rural life – hay in June, wheat in July and potatoes and cider apples in October. Add in Michael Foreman’s illustrations of the rolling Devon landscape and it’s an irresistible mix. Children who loved War Horse will enjoy finding out what happened to Joey when he returned from the war – and I reckon their parents will too.
Farm Boy by Michael Morpurgo (HarperCollins, £5.99)