Reviews: Latawnya The Naughty Horse Learns To Say No To Drugs

The only children's book to feature an OD'd horse

I have to wonder sometimes what people are thinking when they create the things they make. Stupid design decisions appear all the time in movies, cartoons, books, video games, and every other media, but sometimes you come across something that's flawed in so many ways and so completely broken, that you really have to wonder how such things could get made.

Like here. Here we have a children's book, written at a very young level, about horses who drink and "smoke drugs". Realistic illustrations depict realistic horses frolicking through the grass, happily playing outside, and standing around with joints and beer bottles in their mouths. Later, the parents tell naughty Latawnya of a family friend who died of an overdose, with an illustration depicting the dead horse in question, a joint lying near his mouth, while two horses stand nearby, one with tears dripping down its face.

You just have to wonder what was going through the author's head as she wrote this book. Is this appropriate subject matter for the age level it was written at, roughly the first/second-grade level? I would argue yes, but it could have been handled better. Why the use of horses? Is it because she thought kids could relate to animals better? Is it because her own children love horses?

The use of non-anthropomorphic horses is just utterly surreal, considering that they engage in behavior that, to say the least, requires opposable thumbs if nothing else. If she wanted to get the moral across to her readers better, perhaps human characters would have worked better, a la My Big Sister Takes Drugs by Judith Vigna, which is written at the same age level. That book has the benefit of not only human characters who can be more easily related to, but also a more realistic situation.

But by simplifying the moral, and using horse characters who are not even human-like (and thus would look more natural holding a joint rather than merely having it stick out of their mouth), to say nothing of the repetitive writing and unrealistic plot, the author creates a book that is unintentionally hilarious, and thus, a true classic.

A noble effort smeared by a sloppy execution.

Let's start on a positive note: in a world so plagued as ours, even the mere existance of books written to instill in our children simple but decent morals (because joking aside, kids, drugs really ARE bad) is the slightest of comforts. However, even the noblest of intentions cannot excuse an effort as sloppy as this.

Now, naturally, children's books are hardly an appropriate canvas for waxing eloquent prose, and it's common knowledge that repitition is good to get information across to a growing brain. However, there's a fine line between this and repeating the same information, at times almost verbatim, in the same paragraph, over and over and OVER. And it's a difference that, for kids, can cross the line from informative to dull - and what kid is going to take heed of a moral from a book they don't like reading? Furthermore, while it's indeed true that kids often relate to anthromorphics better than people, context has to be taken into account - and, in this case, as has been mentioned, the lack of opposable thumbs where they are so fundamentally necessary is apt to leave kids much too confused to comprehend a moral - even such a misguidedly heavy-handed one.

The illustrations really don't help matters either - if Miss Gibson really thought that such drawings were going to get the attention of five and six year olds, she really needs to rethink a few things - I mean, aside from the fact that no kid is going to find such realistically-drawn horses very memorable, she didn't even colour the things. It seems highly unlikely that kids will remember these drawings - and by extension, this book - as much more than lines on paper for very long.

There's one extra little element that makes this all the sadder, though: in and of themselves, the illustrations (surreal subject matter aside, of course) are actually pretty good - in fact, with a bit more colour and a few less joints, theyd actually work pretty well in a book featuring horse characters aimed at children a few years older (though, uh, preferably written by someone else). Id have read it.

Overall, though, Miss Gibson, if you feel compelled to fight to keep kids off drugs, by all means, continue; its one of the most noble of quests. Just...find a different way to do it.

Oh, and lets end with an obvious quip: "Latawnya The Naughty Horse" sounds like something off a shock site.