‘Marnie Clark dreams of owning a horse
and having the whole world to ride it in.’

Mrs Whitlam by Bruce Pascoe

Like Marnie Clark, I also dreamed of having a horse of my own. My dream horse was pitch black with a white star and I was going to call her Midnight Star. It might have been because my dad had his own horse – a black horse with a white blaze and three white socks. I wasn’t allowed to ride my dad’s horse whose name was Tanda. He was a big horse, part Arab and temperamental. My dad described him as ‘toey’. One afternoon my dad was thrown by Tanda and hit the ground head first. He said he could see stars swirling around his head – just like in the cartoons. It’s probably just as well I was never allowed to ride Tanda!

While I dreamed of one day owning a horse called Midnight Star, Marnie Clark dreams of one day owning a horse called Cloud or Windrush or Willow or Riverstone. But Marnie is given a horse with the unusual name of Mrs Margaret Whitlam.  Marnie calls her Maggie. Maggie is part Clydesdale and has large, hairy feet and a big bum. But Maggie needs to be loved and Marnie knows that she could love this heavy-footed horse, given to her following a tragic accident.

And so the relationship between Maggie and Marnie develops and grows. A strong bond between them sees Maggie become Marnie’s best friend. The bond between them becomes so strong that Maggie saves Marnie from drowning in the swift current of the river. But Maggie isn’t the only hero, Marnie is also a hero. Marnie had plunged into the river to save a baby boy being swept out towards the sea.

I found this story to be engaging, it flowed well and was easy to read. Complex themes such as racism, bullying and grief were touched upon but not explored in any depth. However, the opportunity to examine these issues more closely is there. I enjoyed the distinctly Australian feel of the story and I was drawn in emotionally right from the first short chapter. My main criticism is that I felt the story was over too quickly and I was left wanting more. It had the potential to be a longer story with more grit and depth and a more satisfying ending.

In case you are wondering, like Marnie, I did get a horse of my own. A beautiful palomino named Honey.

Mrs Whitlam has been shortlisted for the Australian Children’s Book Council Younger Reader’s Book of the Year.