I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

4.7 9
by Diane Lee Wilson

Born on the Mongolian steppes during the reign of Kublai Khan, Oyuna's future seems decided when, as an infant, her foot is crushed by a horse. Her clan believes she has been cursed by bad luck, and she is confined to her family's tent to cook and sew. But Oyuna dreams of bringing honor and good luck to her family. Disguised as a boy and with only her beloved old


Born on the Mongolian steppes during the reign of Kublai Khan, Oyuna's future seems decided when, as an infant, her foot is crushed by a horse. Her clan believes she has been cursed by bad luck, and she is confined to her family's tent to cook and sew. But Oyuna dreams of bringing honor and good luck to her family. Disguised as a boy and with only her beloved old mare and heroic cat for company, she sets off on a journey—a journey that will change her luck forever.

In her debut novel, talented new author Diane Lee Wilson—chosen as one of Publishers Weekly's Flying Starts for 1998—spins an inspired tale of courage, faith, and determination.

00-01 Young Hoosier Book Award Masterlist (Grds 6-8) and 01 AZ Young Reader Award Masterlist (Teen Bks cat.)

Author Biography: Diane Lee Wilson lives with her family in San Diego, CA. I Rode a Horse of Mild White Jade is her first book for children.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
No ordinary horse story, Wilson races out of the gates with her debut account of Oyuna, an equestrian girl living in 14th-century Mongolia; the author links the epic and the ordinary, and transforms a curse into a blessing. Oyuna enters "into the realm of the horse" when a horse's hoof crushes her foot as a toddler, disabling her and bringing bad luck to her ail (her family and clan of herdsman). To redeem their luck, the girl resolves to win the annual race at the festival in Karakorum. But the aspiring contestant's preparation does not entail daily workouts and hours of repetition. What Wilson has in mind for Oyuna is a journey, in which the girl sets out from home disguised as a boy among the Khan's army, then trekswith only her gifted horse and cat as companionsover many miles of winding mountain pathways and vast, barren flatlands. She meets up with strange women with magical potions and powers, and with the great Kublai Khan before finally coming full circle to Karakorum for the race itself. The author threads, throughout Oyuna's passage, pearls of Mongolian history (e.g., in her approach to the Khan, Oyana crosses the Great Wall) and culture, even vocabulary. Although Wilson's framework of a story-within-a-story results in the preaching of an anticlimactic moral, the ending steals no thunder from Oyuna's penultimate race, the culmination of her dream. Horse lovers or not, readers will be riveted.
Children's Literature - Judy Katsh
The steppes of Mongolia circa 1285 AD are the setting of this tale of youth, courage, family, and friendship. The plot and timeline of the book cover as much ground as the wide-open steppes themselves. Oyuna makes a difficult journey from her lowly station as a lame and pitied member of the tribe to her eventual position of respect and honor as a horsewoman and shamaness. Oyuna tells her story to her granddaughter as they both keep vigil over the difficult birth of the white mare's foal. The storytelling helps calm the two women and strengthen the intergenerational, spiritual, and emotional bonds between them. Readers are treated to a rich look back to an exotic time and place where tribesman are poor, the land is wild, and both can easily fall victim to the whims of the all-powerful rulers of the day. Readers will lose themselves in the story as surely as Oyuna loses her own way mid-journey. But, at journey's end, they will certainly find, as she does, a real pleasure that can only come from having undertaken the journey at all.
School Library Journal
In 14th-century China, an elderly woman tells her granddaughter about her early life on the Mongol steppes, beginning with the day a horse crushed her tiny foot, crippling the young Oyuna. According to her nomadic clan's religious beliefs, this incident brought bad luck to her and her family. Thereafter, she views any misfortune visited upon her family as her fault, even her mother's accidental death. Her one joy is her new white horse. When the mare is commandeered by Kublai Khan's forces, Oyuna dresses as a boy in order to remain with her beloved companion. When the soldiers discover her secret, they are anxious to get rid of her and quickly send her off alone to complete a mission for an injured arrow rider for the Khan. After an arduous trek, she reaches the Khan's palace where she is instrumental in halting a plague that is killing off the ruler's herd of white horses and meets the man whom she will marry. In the words of her own shamaness grandmother, she has learned to make her own luck. This unique coming-of-age story is steeped in the rituals and superstitions of the period and punctuated with graphic images of the harsh terrain and living conditions on the barren steppes, the treacherous mountains, and the gobi. The character of Oyuna, though a sympathetic one, seems drawn with a kind of detachment that makes it difficult to identify closely with her. Nevertheless, her story is an exciting one that will reward diligent, proficient readers. Peggy Morgan, The Library Network, Southgate, MI
Kirkus Reviews
"Bad luck," plagues 12-year-old Oyuna and her family. Oyuna seems fated to live with the curse of her lame foot, crushed by a black mare, for the rest of her life. But the elderly Oyuna relates the plodding story to her granddaughter of how she changed her destiny in in 14th-century Mongolia. During the era of Kublai Khan, Oyuna's journey to self-confidence begins when she finds that she is able to communicate with a special white mare. When soldiers come to take the mare, Oyuna disguises herself as a boy to join Khan's army so she can be with the horse. Her adventures border on the absurd, e.g., she first stands up to Khan and then bonds with him. While there are some brave moments and dramatic scenes, readers will lose patience with the limping narrative and obvious moral.

Product Details

San Val
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.36(w) x 7.58(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Outside Hangchou, China-
a.d. 1339

"Grandmother! You came!"

"Of course I came."

"But it's so far, and with your leg being-"

"Never you mind what can't be changed. How is she?"

"I don't know. Not well, I think. She's just been circling all day."

"Circling." The wrinkled face nodded. Papery eyelids drooped, then lifted on dove gray eyes flecked with gold. "That is good. Circling brings luck. Circling . . . completes the journey."

Head bobbing, the heavily robed old woman lifted the latch and limped into the stable's shadows. She pulled the shivering girl into the sweet-smelling grass piled in the corner. Together they silently marveled at the swollen sides of the white mare who stood, ears pricked, staring expectantly into the night.

"See?" A knobby finger was thrust from beneath the fraying edge of the deep blue silk robe. "She knows to wait for the right time. We will wait with her."

Opening her robe and pulling the young girl within its warmth, the old woman continued, "Your mother tells me you have many questions-about what happened in the past." A sigh, like a weak breeze sifting through dried leaves, floated into the darkness. "That was long ago, a different time, a different land even. But perhaps, before the night is through . . ."

The white ears of the mare flickered forward and back, trying to catch the low tones drifting through her stall. But the woman whispered her story only for her granddaughter, whose small body curled beneath her arm. It was the ninth day of the ninth month; the moon rose full. The time had come.

The Black Mare

I don't remember on which day it happened. I do remember the earth warm against my back, thedirt soft beneath my fingernails as I cried out. So it must have been June, or maybe July, for the months of summer are but fleeting visitors in Mongolia.

Before the hands came, pulling me up, before the voice joined mine, wailing, in that brief moment of chaos where all becomes calm, there was the mare. As I lay upon my back, a helpless, whining toddler, she lowered her head to nuzzle me. Like the falling of night her great dark head pushed away the pale sky, for she was all I could see. Warm gusts from her giant nostrils blew across my face. Silky black hide, stretched over bony sun and shadow, framed liquid eyes. I stared into their depths. Like black water on a moonless night, they hid what lay beneath, yet drew me in, breathless.

I think that in that moment I did hold my breath, stopped crying.Then the mare lifted her hoof, passing it over my head, and moved on. She picked her way daintily now, as if fearful of crushing a flower. But there it was already-my crushed foot.

With the rushing pain came the blood; with the blood, the screams. I remember my mother hurriedly wrapping my foot in a silk sash of pale blue-the color of good luck. The blood seeped through anyway, warm and wet, and I could smell it. It is the same smell as when a baby goat plunges into your hands from its mother's womb. The smell of birth.

This was my birth into the realm of the horse.

Meet the Author

Diane Lee Wilson lives with her family in San Diego, CA. I Rode a Horse of Mild White Jade is her first book for children.

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