A Ride on the Red Mare's Back


A brave girl sets out through the snowy northern wilderness to rescue her little brother from the trolls. She's helped by her wooden horse, a small red toy that's transformed into a powerful mare to carry her through darkness and storm.

With the aid of her magic wooden horse, a brave girl travels to the High House in the mountains to rescue her kidnapped brother from the trolls.

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Downing, Julie New York, NY 1992 Hard cover New in new dust jacket. Sewn binding. Paper over boards. 48 p. Audience: Children/juvenile.

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A brave girl sets out through the snowy northern wilderness to rescue her little brother from the trolls. She's helped by her wooden horse, a small red toy that's transformed into a powerful mare to carry her through darkness and storm.

With the aid of her magic wooden horse, a brave girl travels to the High House in the mountains to rescue her kidnapped brother from the trolls.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Text and artwork of extraordinary beauty highlight this stirring tale of a girl who rescues her brother after he is captured by trolls. In the haunting, singsong language of an epic poem, Le Guin depicts the primeval northern country where the nameless girl dwells with her family. While her parents grieve over the loss of their son, the girl sets out to find him, taking for comfort her only toy, a painted wooden horse. For that one night, the figure is transformed into a flesh-and-blood mare of fiery red, which helps the girl find her imprisoned brother and bring him home. Le Guin's evocative prose takes the reader on that wild ride through the chill darkness--we hear the mare's hooves on a wooden bridge; we see the piles of refuse and the scampering rats in the interior of the troll's fortress. In Downing's paintings, too, the red mare (based on a Swedish woodcarving) leaps vividly to life, shaking her bridle of flowers as she crosses a silvery landscape bathed in bluish light. The trolls, with their white, moonlike faces, long talons and spikey hair are appropriately hideous. Even the book's design, lovely without being obtrusive, contributes to the old-world feeling of a classic story. Ages 6-9. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
When her parents are unable to rescue their young son from the trolls, their daughter forgets caution, takes her red wooden horse for support, and begins the search for her brother. A grand adventure with pictures that highlight the danger and daring of the girl's mission. 1996 (orig.
School Library Journal
Gr 1-5-- Le Guin's unnamed heroine is neither flamboyant nor elegant, but she is focused and wonderfully resolute. The tale tells of a little boy stolen by wicked trolls and taken to their High House. Since the heartbroken father is unable to cope and the mother must stay home with the baby, the sister sets out with a bit of bread, knitting needles, red yarn, and a scarf to find her brother. Of course, she is accompanied by her magical red wooden horse that her father had carved. Using traditional folkloric patterns, Le Guin fashions a child protagonist who is not overly frightened by trolls; she just deals with them. She is not even overly impressed with the mare who is her guide and champion. The horse does her thing and the girl goes on with her rescue mission. The language is rhythmic, with well-paced cadences and a tone that calls out to be read aloud. The illustrations do not invade the space of this well-crafted tale, but provide glimpses of what is being shared. Text pages have a decorative gray border that seems to embrace the words and adds a measure of caring to the telling. On the other pages, Downing uses the lovely reds of the horse and the scarf against more sober colors to complete the images. This story is a real gem that demonstrates the value of determination and that one's sense of satisfaction in a task completed is reward enough. Bravo to such a creative work. --Kay E. Vandergrift, School of Communication, Information and Library Studies, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780531059913
  • Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/1/1992
  • Pages: 48
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.83 (w) x 10.32 (h) x 0.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Ursula K.  Le Guin

Julie Downing is an internationally published author and illustrator. She has illustrated over thirty highly acclaimed books for children. Her work has been exhibited in galleries throughout the United States and England. She lives in San Francisco, California.


Speculative fiction, magic realism, "slipstream" fiction -- all these terms could apply to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin. Unfortunately, none was in common use when she started writing in the early 1960s. As a young writer, Le Guin weathered seven years of rejections from editors who praised her novels' elegant prose but were puzzled by their content. At a time when the only literary fiction was realistic fiction, as Le Guin later told an interviewer for The Register-Guard in Portland, Oregon, "There just wasn't a pigeonhole for what I write."

At long last, two of her stories were accepted for publication, one at a literary journal and one at a science-fiction magazine. The literary journal paid her in copies of the journal; the science-fiction magazine paid $30. She told The Register-Guard, "I thought: 'Oooohhh! They'll call what I write science fiction, will they? And they'll pay me for it? Well, here we go!' "

Le Guin continued to write and publish stories, but her breakthrough success came with the publication of The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969. The novel, which tells of a human ambassador's encounters with the gender-changing inhabitants of a distant planet, was unusual for science fiction in that it owed more to anthropology and sociology than to the hard sciences of physics or biology. The book was lauded for its intellectual and psychological depth, as well as for its fascinating premise. "What got to me was the quality of the story-telling," wrote Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. "She's taken the mythology, psychology -- the entire creative surround -- and woven it into a jewel of a story."

Since then, Le Guin has published many novels, several volumes of short stories, and numerous poems, essays, translations, and children's books. She's won an arm's-length list of awards, including both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and a National Book Award for The Farthest Shore. Over the years, she has created and sustained two fictional universes, populating each with dozens of characters and stories. The first universe, Ekumen, more or less fits into the science-fiction mode, with its aliens and interplanetary travel; the second, Earthsea, is a fantasy world, complete with wizards and dragons. As Margaret Atwood wrote in The New York Review of Books, "Either one would have been sufficient to establish Le Guin's reputation as a mistress of its genre; both together make one suspect that the writer has the benefit of arcane drugs or creative double-jointedness or ambidexterity."

More impressive still is the way Le Guin's books have garnered such tremendous crossover appeal. Unlike many writers of science fiction, she is regularly reviewed in mainstream publications, where her work has been praised by the likes of John Updike and Harold Bloom. But then, Le Guin has never fit comfortably into a single genre. As she said in a Science Fiction Weekly interview, "I know that I'm always called 'the sci-fi writer.' Everybody wants to stick me into that one box, while I really live in several boxes. It's probably hurt the sales of my realistic books like Searoad, because it tended to get stuck into science fiction, where browsing readers that didn't read science fiction would never see it."

Le Guin has also published a translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, a book that has influenced her life and writing since she was a teenager; she has translated fiction by Angelica Gorodischer and a volume of poems by Gabriela Mistral; and, perhaps most gratifyingly for her fans, she has returned to the imaginary realm of Earthsea. Tehanu, which appeared in 1990, was subtitled "The Last Book of Earthsea," but Le Guin found she had more to tell, and she continued with Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. "I thought after 'Tehanu' the story was finished, but I was wrong," she told Salon interviewer Faith L. Justice. "I've learned never to say 'never.' "

Good To Know

The "K" in Ursula K. Le Guin stands for Le Guin's maiden name, Kroeber. Her father was the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber; her mother, the writer Theodora Kroeber, is best known for the biography Ishi in Two Worlds.

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    1. Hometown:
      Portland, Oregon
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 21, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
    2. Website:

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