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Highway Robbery

Highway Robbery

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by Kate Thompson, Robert Dress

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The rider sprang off as light as a cat and pulled the reins over the horse's head. Then he marched straight over to me and put them into my hand.

"Hold the mare for me, lad. And when I come back, I'll give you a golden guinea."

A dark stranger leaves his magnificent horse in the care of a boy he's never met. As dusk falls, others offer to pay the boy


The rider sprang off as light as a cat and pulled the reins over the horse's head. Then he marched straight over to me and put them into my hand.

"Hold the mare for me, lad. And when I come back, I'll give you a golden guinea."

A dark stranger leaves his magnificent horse in the care of a boy he's never met. As dusk falls, others offer to pay the boy handsomely for the animal. Then soldiers arrive, demanding to know where the horse's owner has gone.

Could the stranger be the notorious Dick Turpin, known for his daring holdups and amazing exploits? Is the horse the legendary Black Bess? And will the boy ever see the reward he's been promised?

There's mischief in the air, but it isn't entirely clear who's causing it.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A young beggar recalls the momentous night he happened to be in the right place when a stranger galloped into town, promising a gold coin if the boy would watch his horse until he returned. The unnamed narrator has his loyalty tested repeatedly as passersby can't help being intrigued by the incongruous pair-barefoot urchin and glorious steed ("I had never in my life been offered so much money by so many people, and yet I still hadn't seen a penny of it"). Finally, the king's men arrive, announcing that the horse, Black Bess, belongs to the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin. Now what? Staying with the horse will surely lead to Turpin's arrest. Thompson (The New Policeman) frames the story as a sale-after Turpin is arrested elsewhere, the boy tries to sell the horse-and in doing so, she introduces a host of ambiguities. Was the boy as true to Turpin as he said? Is the horse really Black Bess? It's a suspenseful and tautly written story as is, and Thompson's sly twist makes it all the richer. Ages 10-up. (June)

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Children's Literature - Jody J. Little
Who is robbing who? That is the question readers face in this short chapter book. A small, barefoot, hungry street urchin tells the story of a cloaked man who asks the boy to hold his mare while he tends to business. In payment, he offers the boy a golden guinea upon his return. While waiting, the boy is approached by many townspeople: two young girls who give the boy bread for the opportunity to pet the mare, two shady men who offer the boy money for the mare, and a team of soldiers who tell the boy the mare belongs to the notorious Highway Robber, Dick Turpin. When night arrives, the boy falls asleep in the saddle of the horse. He is awakened by the soldiers, who claim the Highway Robber has been captured. Not trusting the soldiers, the boy flees on the mare, eluding all of the townspeople. Were the soldiers trustworthy? Was the cloaked man really Dick Turpin? Can the young street urchin be trusted? Teachers and students will enjoy debating these questions and more. Reviewer: Jody J. Little
School Library Journal

Gr 3-5

In this slight yet entertaining novel, a young unnamed urchin explains to a potential buyer how he came into possession of the horse he's offering for sale. It seems that a wild-looking gentleman asked him to care for it and not move from that spot until he returned in exchange for a guinea. Even while enchanted with the prospect of more money than he's ever known, the boy considers the offers of passersby to take the animal off his hands and deals with the moral quandary of whether he should sell it for more than the owner promised him. As he continues to wait the gentleman's return, he learns from a soldier that the man he encountered was actually the legendary highway robber Dick Turpin, and that the horse is the equally legendary Black Bess. The story that the boy spins has the structure of a classic folktale. Thompson leaves a sense of ambiguity as to whether it is true, or if it comes from an unusually active imagination. Readers are left to decide whether the urchin is telling the truth or is performing a major act of highway robbery on readers. Teachers might use this tale as a perfect example of an unreliable narrator. Black-and-white drawings capture and accentuate the period feel and clarify the Victorian-era setting.-Tim Wadham, St. Louis County Library, MO

Kirkus Reviews
An unnamed young lad, called a guttersnipe and clearly an urchin with few resources except his considerable wits, recounts recent events to an unknown audience he calls "Sir." Hungry, cold and penniless, our raconteur tells of being in the right place at the right time to be promised a guinea for holding onto a horse's reins. As sundry passersby try to gain amusement and profit from his circumstances, our young lad keeps hold of reins and hopes and tries to gain some small advantage for himself. This short chapter book with plentiful pen-and-ink drawings supplied by Dress, large font and lines spaced apart for easy reading is just the thing for those leaving early readers behind and wanting fast-paced action, dry humor and an ending that leaves room for discussion. References to Dick Turpin and Black Bess place this in the early 18th century, but it hardly matters, as our narrator's reliability is as slippery as the famous highwayman himself. The fun is in guessing at the truth while always hoping for his success. (Historical fiction. 8-12)
The Horn Book
“A narrative rich in language, told with panache and begging to be shared aloud, along with Duddle and Dress’s comical, detailed sketches of its Dickensian denizens and the romantically elegant Black Bess.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Kate Thompson lives on the west coast of Ireland, which provides inspiration for the Irish magic, music, and landscape in the award-winning The New Policeman and The Last of the High Kings.

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Highway Robbery 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
SFlibres More than 1 year ago
As this is a young person's book, I haven't actually read it yet. My 10 yr old son is a great reader, but it is very hard for me to find books that he enjoys and he LOVED this one. Actually got in trouble for getting caught still reading it at 10:30 at night, an hour after I had told him to finally turn off the light and go to sleep. He is requesting other books by this same author now. A miracle for me! You might also consider the series of young James Bond books, which was my last hit with my son. (Author Charlie Higson, "Silver Fin", plus others)