The Water Horse (1990), by Dick King-Smith

The Water Horse is a delightful tale for young readers. I had seen the movie, and I suppose I should not have been surprised that the book was completely different: a far better book than the movie would have made.  I can see, though, how the book itself does not present enough conflict to sustain the hour and a half required of major motion picture, but that is part of what makes it delightful: it is a simple story of keeping Crusoe, the Water Horse, safe from predators, animal and human.

The writing style is simple, perfect for early readers, as are the tensions inherent in possible attacks by natural predators of small creatures, by the onset of winter weather, by the possibility of human aggression or over-interest.  The incidents are long enough to create sufficient anxiety in the reader, without over dramatizing the threats Crusoe faces.

The length of the book, too, is aimed at younger readers; I finished it on the 45-minute bus-ride home from work. The chapters are short, and all end neatly with a hint of what will come, but at a level of interest that should allow parents to wrest the book from young hands at bed-time…

Overall, I would highly recommend The Water Horse to readers between about 5 and 9. The movie, I must say, I liked as well, but it was an overly predictable Hollywood plot superimposed on this simple and heartwarming story of a Scottish family (yes, unlike the movie, the father plays an integral part in the tale) who keep alive not only Crusoe, but their culture’s mythic traditions.


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