The Winter Horses

The Winter Horses

3.6 6
by Philip Kerr

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From Philip Kerr, the New York Times bestselling author of the Bernie Gunther novels, comes a breathtaking journey of survival in the dark days of WWII in Ukraine, a country that remains tumultuous today. This inspiring tale captures the power of the human spirit and is perfect for fans of The Book Thief, Milkweed, and 

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From Philip Kerr, the New York Times bestselling author of the Bernie Gunther novels, comes a breathtaking journey of survival in the dark days of WWII in Ukraine, a country that remains tumultuous today. This inspiring tale captures the power of the human spirit and is perfect for fans of The Book Thief, Milkweed, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

It will soon be another cold winter in the Ukraine.  But it's 1941, and things are different this year.  Max, the devoted caretaker of an animal preserve, must learn to live with the Nazis who have overtaken this precious land. He must also learn to keep secrets—for there is a girl, Kalinka, who is hiding in the park.

Kalinka has lost her home, her family, her belongings—everything but her life.  Still, she has gained one small, precious gift: a relationship with the rare wild and wily Przewalski's horses that wander the preserve. Aside from Max, these endangered animals are her only friends—until a Nazi campaign of extermination nearly wipes them out for good.

Now Kalinka must set out on a treacherous journey across the frozen forest to save the only two surviving horses—and herself.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—This story follows the harrowing journey of Kalinka, a Jewish orphan searching for safety, and the horses that provide her with comfort, power, and hope. Set in 1941 in war-torn Ukraine, Kerr's novel is also a tale of survival-not only Kalinka's, but of Przewalski's horses, a rare breed of wild horse that dates back tens of thousands of years. The story opens on the Askaniya-Nova animal sanctuary where Max, the longtime caretaker, has been ordered by the SS to kill all of the animals, including the nearly extinct Przewalski's horses. As Max struggles with the demands of a cruel Nazi officer who has turned the reserve into his headquarters, he meets Kalinka who is travelling alone after witnessing the deaths of her family. With Max's guidance and support, Kalinka and the last pair of the horses embark on a jouney across the Ukranian wilderness. As Kalinka faces frightening obstacles, her ability to communicate with the horses and other fantastical elements give her the courage to face serious threats and her own fears. Threads of "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Hansel and Gretel" contribute to the sense that this is an "old" story handed down through generations. Like the best stories told around a campfire, it is spellbinding, but it can also be terrifying. Ultimately, The Winter Horses ends on a note of hope and triumph-for both Kalinka and the horses. Kerr's novel will be enjoyed by readers who like a touch of fantasy in their historical fiction.—Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA
Voya Reviews, April 2014 (Vol. 36, No. 1) - Erin Wyatt
The cold steppe of the Ukraine is fraught with danger for Kalinka, an orphaned girl trying desperately to survive. After the massacre of her family and most of her town at the hands of Nazi soldiers, she finds temporary comfort at a wildlife preserve when her path crosses with a pair of Przewalski’s horses, wild horses whose entire pack was slaughtered by the same Nazi soldiers. The horses are preternaturally clever and form a unique bond with Kalinka, all three with quick wits and gut-instinct for survival. After finding temporary refuge with Max, the discovery of the yellow fabric from her jacket begins danger anew as Kalinka, the horses, and a Russian wolfhound make a mad dash to the territory of the Red Army before they are captured and killed. Death seems to lurk at every turn and the four must use all their skills and instincts, and trust in each other. With a slow pace while the story establishes itself, the novel soon takes off at a gallop, pulling readers along in this Holocaust story of life in the Soviet Union during World War II. While the connection between Kalinka and the animals may be far-fetched, their stories and experiences bring this harrowing survival story to life. Kerr makes a point to show a spectrum of Germans, not all are vilified, as a range of people making choices. This well-told story centers on the drive to survive, both for self and to fend off extinction of a species. Reviewer: Erin Wyatt; Ages 11 to 18.
Kirkus Reviews
Kerr, well-known for his best-selling World War II thrillers for adults (A Man Without Breath, 2013, etc.), enters YA territory with a compelling but ultimately flawed tale of saving the last Przewalski's horses from Nazi invaders. Elderly Max has been caretaker of the Ukrainian nature preserve Askaniya-Nova all his life, from its inception by a gallant German baron at the beginning of the century through torture and destruction during World War I and even now, as the Nazis invade. Max initially believes the Germans will, like his former master, be kind to him and the animals in the preserve, particularly the small herds of Przewalski's horses, some of the last on Earth of a very ancient breed. Meanwhile, Kalinka, a 15-year-old Jew orphaned by a German pogrom, has escaped to the steppe and makes friends with two of the remarkable horses, who are renowned for both their wildness and their cunning. Fast-paced action and interesting history (Askaniya-Nova still exists; the horses have been restored there) keep readers turning the pages, but the distant, omniscient point of view will prevent them from becoming truly engaged in the characters' plight. Flat dialogue often sounds as though it's coming from a tour guide, not a Russian peasant, and the abrupt ending doesn't fully satisfy. Though marketed for teens, it reads more like an adventure for children. A worthwhile-enough read for kids particularly interested in history and/or horses. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
930L (what's this?)
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Philip Kerr is the New York Times bestselling author of the WWII Bernie Gunther crime novels and the children's fantasy series Children of the Lamp.  He lives in England.

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Winter Horses 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr is a MG historical novel full of intrigue, wonder and survival. Amazingly, two wild horses and a dog, each important to the story, carry their parts as if they were human characters. But none are as strong as Kalinka, the fourteen-year-old Jewish girl who survives the killing of her entire family in Russia during WWII by the Nazis, the brutal winter on the Ukrainian steppes and the bombs of her own Red Army. Kalinka strives to save the horses and they unite to save her. The underlying theme of surviving the Nazi’s attempt to eliminate a race is cleverly played out two-fold in this story. The fantasy element is understated and the only two weaknesses I found in the plot were that of the escapees’ footprints. The SS soldiers paid extreme attention to the beginning of the chase, mentioning the four sets of footprints, and then they noted three, when Kalinka mounted the female horse. But their observation skills were totally lacking when toward the end of the tracking they were completely fooled by following only one set of footprints. (Not likely) And the second plot hole concerned the horses, the girl and the dog covered in a silver paint so that the SS soldiers thought they were silver statues. That must have been a giant jar of paint, not to mention that Kalinka was able to wash it off with snow. (Again, not likely.) Despite these two situations, the writing is so well done it captures the reader’s attention from the first page and holds it to the last. With current events in Ukraine, this story will gain popularity because of the setting and I have recommended this story to several people. I received an ARC of this story from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im 12 years old and i loved this book! This is my first Phillp Kerr (sorry if i spelled it wrong) and i have a pretty good impression of him:) I think this is a great book for tweens or teens who are studying WWII as am i... and the best thimg is i couldnt set it down! Alot of imagination and hilarious events! But also unexpected twists and sad scenes. So get ready for a ride
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seaquine More than 1 year ago
I should've read the reviews before reading the book. It appeared in my "Historical Fiction" search & being a horse person for many years, I looked forward to learning how these equines shaped our history. From a teenage standpoint, I think this would be a nice, uplifting read, away from the many culture shocks of the day. Would recommend for 16 and under.
Patarma6 More than 1 year ago
Well drawn characters add substance to a very nice legend. Additionally, a little knowledge about the horses is presented that is probably overlooked in the flood information of our age.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book a real page turner