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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is an emotional story that celebrates the power of the imagination in a big way. It provides a wonderfully different World War 2 story for those wanting an alternative to Michael Morpurgo or Sam Angus. I should also mention it's a beautiful object, a small hardback with gorgeous illustrations by Levi Pinfold; this is a truly lovely thing to have on your bookshelf, with content to match.

While war rages in other parts of the world, the residents of the Briar Hill hospital for children are also fighting for their lives, against TB and other diseases. One of them harbours a strange secret. Emmaline, a quiet imaginative girl, can see winged horses. She senses them walking around the hospital, and she catches glimpses of them in mirrors, windows to a world in which they live and which seems to overlap with ours.

One day she finds one in a field near the hospital, wounded and trapped. She also discovers that not all the horses are benevolent. There is the black horse named Volkrig, which she sees occasionally as a dark shadow in the sky, scanning the landscape like a bomber. She starts to receive letters from the Horse Lord, ruler of their world, who gives her detailed instructions on how to protect the wounded horse from Volkrig. It will be difficult, particuarly because she is rarely given permission to go outside, and even more so because she will need help from the other children to do so. Who among them will believe her, and who will ridicule her or stand in her way? Anna, the bedridden girl with the coveted coloured pencils? Benny, the school bully with a love of trains? Thomas, the sad one-armed boy who helps look after the hospital grounds?

Are the winged horses real or imaginary, or somehow a little of both? Does it matter? Perhaps it will be left to you to unravel the threads and decide.

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