Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia. New York: Lee & Low Books.
Appetizer: Following their own trip to Mongolia as tourists the Lewins share about the preparation and events of a Naadam festival. They begin by
As can be expected from previous Caldecott honor winners (Betsy for Click, Clack Moo: Cows That Type) the illustrations in Horse Song are A-MA-ziiiiiiiing! They use a lot of wonderful color and manage (I'm guessing here, since I have yet to find the funding to travel to Mongolia) to capture a bit of the landscape and culture of the places they visited. The illustrations of the horses running (and there were several) were the most striking.
Intermixed among the more stunning illustrated pages, are other pages that include multiple simpler sketches.
I do like that the Lewins frame this book as their own personal trip to experience another culture instead of trying to use some annoying omniscient voice to share about Naadam in an authoritative voice..."All Mongolian people...blah, blah, blah." *Cringes at the thought*
Rather, this is two people sharing their personal experiences, allowing space for others to see the events differently. (On that note, a teacher could make use of this book as an example of how to write a travel log for middle grade students). It is clear that the Lewins did some research and made an effort to include some words of the Khalkha Mongolian language, but they in no way claim to be experts. Which I appreciate. Greatly.
Also, here's a video of the Lewins talking about their love of travel. They mainly talk about their time in India here, but it's still wonderful to hear the author/illustrators speak and see where they work.
In other news, when I start a google search for "Mongolia..." the first suggestion that always comes up is Mongolian BBQ. Just thought I'd share that.
"Every summer Naadam festivals are held all around Mongolia to celebrate the country's most popular sports: wrestling, archery, and horse racing. The Naadam brings isolated nomads together to take part in the events, see friends and relatives, feast and celebrate life. It's a time for Mongolians to remember centuries of tradition and keep their cultural heritage alive."
"Are you Betsy and Ted?" asks a young woman as she steps from the crowd at the Ulaanbaatar airport. "I'm your guide. My name is Batsuren."
"It is early morning on the steppe. We are awakened by mooing cows and bleating goats. As we crawl out of our little tent by the river, Amraa is fetching water and Batsuren is cooking breakfast. Suddenly we are surrounded by a large herd of horses that has come to the river to drink."
"Like boys and girls everywhere in Mongolia, Tamir dreams of bringing honor, glory, and prizes to his family by winning the big race, now only one week away."
"The race has begun. Pandemonium!"
To Go with the Meal:
While probably best for middle grade students, this book could also be used with children who are still transitioning to chapter books since the picture book is text-heavy and sectioned off into different sections as the Lewins experienced different parts of their journey.
After reading this story, students could write their own accounts of their own travels or could research Mongolia in more depth.
This is a wonderful book that can really spark the imagination for some young readers. A teacher should be ready to encourage students to participate in make-believe horse races. To incorporate other cultures, a teacher could also show excerpts from the movie, Hidalgo or share books about distance races within the historical American West as well.
Tasty Rating: !!!