Flying with Horses: A kid’s book for everyone

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“Where Horses Fly” by Jacqui Boulter, illustrations by Sabrina Kuchta, Vineyard Stories 2012. 32 pp., $17.95.
 Available at Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven, Edgartown Books, and other Island outlets, including Soft As A Grape, Rainy Day, and Flying Horses Carousel

Do yourself a favor. Read a children’s book.

Children’s literature has arguably had a more dramatic evolution in form, intent, and social value over the last several generations than any other literary genre.

The classical definition of literature includes its power to inform, entertain, and communicate, but it seems its power to heal us following a bump in life’s road is also important and is most perceptible in children’s literature today.

For examples, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” published in 1922, and “The Little Prince,” published 20 years later, were both considered watershed works, a sea change from the norm, and both remain the most popular kids’ books today because, I think, they contained the stuff of real life combined with the fairy tale to teach not only children but the rest of us as well. That stuff, providing understanding and healing in a good yarn, has become normative in the genre.

Jacqui Boulter has penned an excellent example with a local perspective. “Where Horses Fly” is Ms. Boulter’s first effort, and she has hit the mark with perfect pitch.

The book is illustrated by Sabrina Kuchta, a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design. I must say that Ms. Kuchta’s style has a phantasmagorical edge that put me off initially and required me to think — generally an uncomfortable exercise. She was right. It’s good art and the story required it. The story, as you’ve probably guessed, revolves (sorry) around the Flying Horses carousel in Oak Bluffs.

Caroline, who appears to be about 10 years old, and her younger brother, David, visit their grandparents on the Island every summer. The carousel has been their first and favorite stop. Not this year for Caroline. She is grieving the recent death of her horse, Nutmeg, over the winter.

So the happy prospect of visiting the carousel has become painful. My practice is not to over-reveal plots and endings. Doesn’t serve readers or authors. I won’t here except to say that Caroline finds a healthy accommodation with grief and loss. We learn a lot about the horses at the carousel. For one, that the carousel began its life in Coney Island. For another, the sculptor, Charles W.F. Dare, placed a small animal figure in each horse’s glass eye. That image plays a role in the plot and is something to investigate next time you’re at the carousel.

“Where Horses Fly” is a literary work. It entertained and informed me about the human experience and specifically about my own. Our relationship with a book includes that promise of personal informing, and this one does.

Here’s what I mean. The author notes tell us that Ms. Boulter’s story has a basis in “…her bond with a spirited horse who will remain in her heart forever.” I always avoid interaction with large livestock, but the note toggled another thought.

A generation ago, parental belief was that kids forget quickly. “Don’t think about it and it’ll go away” was the advice. Not so much, we have since learned, and that’s a value of books like this.

“Where Horses Fly” will be premiered on July 8 at a reception from 4 to 6 pm at the Pebble Gallery at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs, with Ms. Boulter and Ms. Kuchta. The reception features a gallery showing of three other artists whose art depicts horses, including carousel horses. Kids are enthusiastically invited.

Part of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust for continuing maintenance of the Flying Horses Carousel.