When you open a new book by award-winning author of Nim’s Island Wendy Orr, you can be assured of a fantastic ride, and her latest middle-grade novel, Honey and the Valley of Horses, walks, trots, canters and gallops towards the end, as it explores family, resilience, self-reliance, bravery and hope. I loved this book, for it’s themes and language and magic, but also, horses!! Anything with horses and I am enthralled.
Set on the backdrop of a pandemic that is sweeping the world, the story opens up opportunity for discussion around resilience and how people can rely on themselves and on each other, no matter what difficulties they face. There are young children in our world who were born just before or during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, who would have known nothing but isolation, social distancing and masks in their formative years. We still have no real understanding of how this might have affected their connection with other people. But, with a lightness of touch, Wendy brings this idea into this story, showing how Honey and her brother Rumi, who have spent most of their lives isolated from the world, have grown and developed.
This is a lovely and timely book, in which an illness sweeping the world, leads to Honey’s family escaping into an enchanted valley filled with horses, in a converted ice cream van. The issue is, once in the valley, they can never find their way out again. They are happy, despite signs that they all long for something more at times, but as Honey’s father becomes ill, the need to leave the valley becomes desperate. In the end it will be the horses who bring the magic and the horses who show Honey and her bother Rumi that they can be brave.
In the mountains there was a valley, and in the valley were the horses.
When Honey was four and her brother Rumi was a tiny baby, her family loaded up their converted ice-cream-van-camper and drove away from all they knew, as an illness swept the sad wide world. High in the mountains, they crossed a bridge to follow a mysterious herd of enchanted horses into a sheltered valley. The bridge and the track disappeared behind them – and now they are trapped in paradise.
In the valley of horses, Honey’s family becomes self-sufficient, fishing, growing vegetables and using solar power. But no messages from the outside world are ever received. When her father falls desperately ill, Honey is sure there must still be people in the big wide world who can help. She is determined to draw on her resourcefulness, self-belief and courage, but will this be enough to find a way out of the valley?
A rich and enchanting adventure full of wonder, resilience and hope.
Honey and her family have developed all sorts of routines and rhythms to their lives in the enchanted valley, which includes the horses, their chickens, special trees and their winter and summer places where they park the van. Honey and Rumi don’t remember any other way of life. They have been told stories by their parents and grandmother NanNan, but they don’t truly know what the big wide world is like. They have no memory of other people, or of houses and cars and technology, other than the old mobile phones their parents and NanNan have, none of which work anymore.
With the inability to leave the valley, due to the bridge and road disappearing once they entered the valley, it is as if the family are locked down and shut behind borders. In between each chapter there are mobile phone messages from different family members and friends, some to Honey’s family, some are relatives talking to each other, all are worried about where Honey and her family have gone. This keeps a thread of connection to the outside world and drops some hints for the reader about what has happened and what might be ahead.
Issues of isolation and disconnection are gently explored. There is a sense of what the benefits of isolation can be, including closer family relationships, a slowing down and a connection with nature. Honey is particularly close to a horse called Moongold and it is the two of them who will eventually discover a way out of the valley. It is clear that Honey’s mother in particular, has a yearning for those she has left behind.
The story shows how people can overcome extraordinary challenges and learn new ways to survive and indeed, to thrive. It shows how a closeness to nature and the magic that lies within our environment can help us to feel better. Wendy talks in her author notes, about how both of her parents died during the two years of writing the book and that they were never happier than when preparing their camper vans and boats for travel. There is certainly a sense of freedom in this story, which is ironic given the family are trapped in an enchanted valley with no way out.
Rather than overtly presenting the experiences we all faced during lockdowns and isolation in the early days of the pandemic, this book allows you to explore these feelings without having to delve into the realities of what happened in the real world. Wendy’s language and pace carry you gently through the story, picking up nicely at the climax, when Honey and Rumi must be brave in order to save their papa. The reconnection with family is lovely and I was left with a sense of magic, wonderment and joy, in the ways we connect as human beings and in the magic of our natural world.
More about Wendy, the book and teaching notes here