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READ TO ME: Clever Hans amazed the world just by being himself ... a horse

by Celia Storey | May 4, 2020 at 2:02 a.m. | Updated May 1, 2020 at 2:02 a.m.
Clever Hans by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Mike Lowery (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young readers, May 5), ages 4-8, 32 pages, $17.99 hardcover, $10.99 Kindle. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

TITLE: Clever Hans

BY: Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Mike Lowery (G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, Tuesday), ages 4-8, 32 pages, $17.99 hardcover, $10.99 Kindle.

STORY: How observant does a herd animal need to be? Very, very observant, or it might be trampled when its herd stampedes. As the famous nonfiction events in this lively picture book demonstrate, horses that are good at being horses have herd skills that look like magic to non-herd animals, such as humans.

In 1904 Berlin, a horseman named Wilhelm von Osten astonished crowds by performing with his remarkable steed, Hans. Hans appeared to spell words, read music, tell time and to count, add, subtract, multiply, divide — even with fractions. Naturally, some viewers were skeptical.

But when C.G. Schillings, a respected scientist, grilled the horse for weeks, somehow the horse answered him correctly. But was Schillings shilling for von Osten? Controversy arose.

The German government asked another scientist, Carl Stumpf, to lead a team to investigate the horse. Twelve experts found no obvious collusion between the two men and, at first, couldn't spot any sort of signaling from men to horse.

But then Stumpf got his assistant, Oskar Pfungst, involved. Pfungst had a hunch, set up an experiment and made observations. His findings will delight science-minded young readers — who by this point in Kokias' story could be a bit worried that Hans does appear to be too smart for a horse. But the story will also satisfy less scientific young readers who might be more than happy to believe in a talking horse.

Lowery's bold, sticker-like illustrations add humor, and photographs of the actual Hans and his actual owner add credibility. Readers learn something about people, something about science and something about horses.

Read to Me is a weekly review of short books.

Style on 05/04/2020

Print Headline: READ TO ME


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