Horse Song: The Naadam of Mongolia

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Ted and Betsy Lewin’s illustrated travelogue story of their trip to Mongolia to watch young boy and girl jockeys race horses in the traditional Naadam summer festival.
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Ted and Betsy Lewin’s illustrated travelogue story of their trip to Mongolia to watch young boy and girl jockeys race horses in the traditional Naadam summer festival.
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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
The world-traveling Lewins take us to Mongolia for the summer festival of Naadam, where legendary child jockeys race half wild horses. The hero of their story, nine-year-old Tamir, is a composite of the real children they met at the festival. We share a tent with them at the training camp, eat traditional foods, and watch the many preparations. On the day of the race, it is pandemonium, trying to get the horses in line as they run. Tamir manages to come in first in the race. Ceremonies end with the awarding of prizes and the traditional "horse song." Ted Lewin's watercolors describe events with compelling naturalism. He provides information while also evoking the emotions felt as a participant in the events. As the horses gather, we sense the tension of both riders and mounts. An interior scene also shows many objects and traditional activities. Betsy Lewin's small reed pen-and-watercolor vignettes add informational details and a leavening of humor. The front and back endpapers of sketches of the jockeys must come from her sketchbook, as they have immediacy with the liveliness of sharp observation. There are pages of additional factual information, a map, and a glossary with a pronunciation guide. Reviewer: Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
Children's Literature - Uma Krishnaswami
From Caldecott honor artists Ted and Betsy Lewin comes this latest in a series of picture book travelogues (other titles include Gorilla Walk and Top to Bottom Down Under). This book is prefaced by an introduction to Mongolia, as well as to the Naadam festivals that bring nomadic people together to celebrate, feast, and engage in competitions of skill. It is the racing of half-wild horses by young riders that forms the focus of this informative, colorful book. The simple, direct text is illustrated in a range of styles, from impressionistic reed pen sketches with daubs of color to fully-developed watercolor spreads in which the muscles of horses ripple and the dust clouds seem to move in from the horizon. The collapsible round tent called the ger occupies a central place in this story. The Lewins are welcomed into one by the family of nine-year-old Tamir, the young rider whose feats we will follow. The milking of mares, the fixing of bridles, the decorative binding of the horses' tails, all take place around the gers, which are grouped together against the wide backdrop of the open steppes. In just one week, the wild horses are rounded up and readied for the race. Young Tamir and the other riders will ride their horses, at a walk, fourteen miles across the Gobi Desert to a race's starting line. Then, they will all race back to the point of origin. The details are fascinating, the scale of the challenge vast. The travelers documenting the process are themselves included in the narrative, a device that has the effect of bringing an unfamiliar place closer to the reader. (As when the Lewins write: "We follow along in our minivan.") Backmatter consists of "Ger Facts," "OtherMongolia Facts," a glossary and a pronunciation guide. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami
School Library Journal

Gr 2-6- This colorful travelogue recounts the Lewins' trip to Mongolia to experience the annual summer celebration Naadam, in particular the horse-racing competition. It focuses on young Tamir as he prepares for and participates in the event. Information about Mongolian culture and the holiday's traditions are interspersed with an account of the competition. An introduction provides brief background, and unfamiliar terms are explained in context and in the glossary. Betsy Lewin's lively line-and-wash cartoon sketches and spot drawings are intermingled with Ted Lewin's sweeping watercolor paintings, which make effective use of light and rich color to portray both the intensity of the competition and the pageantry of the celebration. For the most part, the writing is tight and fast-paced, reflecting the event it describes. At other times, it becomes flowery and chatty. While perhaps not an essential purchase, the book provides a dynamic view of a culture rarely portrayed in children's books and an event that is sure to interest many young readers.-Heide Piehler, Shorewood Public Library, WI

Kirkus Reviews
Visiting another exotic corner of the world, the well-traveled Lewins report on a stay in a camp of nomadic horse trainers, climaxed by a gloriously chaotic 14-mile children's horse race during the Naadam-a summer athletic festival that, after the Olympics, is the oldest in the world. Mongolia may be thinly populated (getting to the camp required a long plane flight, followed by "eight hundred bumpy, roadless miles in a minivan") but it is evidently not all that isolated. Some of the young riders in the bright, realistic illustrations are clad in traditional deels, others in jeans and T-shirts, while in one interior scene (of a dwelling properly called a "ger," not a yurt) a modern teakettle shines amid beautifully painted furniture and elaborately patterned fabrics. Closing with pages of additional facts and observations, this sojourn will not only take armchair travelers to the other side of the planet, it'll make them feel comfortable and welcome when they arrive. (glossary) (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-9)
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  • Posted April 12, 2013

    This one's a winner!

    The authors/artists have traveled to Mongolia to see a horse race where all the riders are children. Expressive and beautiful illustrations and brief text bring the event to life for American readers. There are touches of humor that may be lost on the youngest readers, but what an inspired way to transport us to this relatively little-known part of the world! I would give this to 7-10 year olds.

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