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story.lead_photo.caption (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

"Muck & Magic"

BY: Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill (Candlewick Press, Nov. 10), ages 7 to 95, 60 pages, $16.99.

STORY: Bonny is 10 when she meets her first horses. Three trot up to stare at her over their wall after she tumbles off her bike. It's new, a super-fast road racer, and she's been pounding over the hills, training hard, imagining herself as Olympic gold medalist Laura Trott Kenny. But a glimpse of the horses running so distracted her she crashed.

These horses are owned by Lizzie, a frail but formidable sculptor. She notes that Bonny begins reappearing at the farm wall, with horse snacks.

Bonny was obsessed with cycling, encouraged by her likable young parents who live for the sport. Now she's not. But she doesn't want to disappoint them. When Lizzie gives Bonny a job in the stable, Bonny hides it by pretending she’s riding all over the countryside, training, when she’s actually mucking out stalls and walking the horses.

One day, Lizzie hires her to pose for a glorious addition to an already pretty terrific sculpture of the horse that Bonny likes best. Lizzie explains that watching Bonny with this horse has made her realize her sculpture needed a companion — a Bedouin rider. She also teaches Bonny to ride the real horse.

More important, she encourages her to open her eyes to the world, to look and really see.

The child doesn't realize that Lizzie is near the end of her days, but she is.

Bonny tells this story in fond retrospect, looking back as a 30-year-old.

The illustrations are sophisticated, with charming sketches laid beside color-saturated landscapes. The book is a size that rests easily in small hands.

The paper has a sheen and feels substantial, as though it contains kaolin. Water will cause such pages to stick together, so hold it away from your eyes when you start to cry.

Read to Me is a weekly review of short books.

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