The year is 1864 and twelve-year-old Gabriel hopes to one day become a famous horse jockey. Although he is a the son of a free black father and a slave mother, making him a slave as wellhe loves to help his father, one of the best horse trainers in Kentucky, care for the Thoroughbred racehorses on Master Giless farm. But the violence of war disrupts the familiar routine of daily life on the farm. One Arm Dan Parmer and his band of Confederate raiders are threatening area farms and stealing horses. When Gabriels father enlists in a Colored Battalion to help the Union Army and earn enough money to purchase freedom for his wife and son, Gabriel is both proud and worried. But the absence of his father brings the arrival of Mr. Newcastle, a white horse trainer with harsh, cruel methods for handling horsesand people. Now it is up to Gabriel to protect the horses he loves from Mr. Newcastle and keep them safely out of the clutches of One Arm Dan and his men.
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ALISON HART is the author of many books for young readers, including several popular mysteries, the RIDING ACADEMY series, and SHADOW HORSE, a 2000 Edgar nominee for best children's mystery. Hart is an accomplished equestrienne and a former teacher. She lives in Virginia. Visit her website at www. childrensbookguild.org/hart.html.From School Library Journal:
Grade 5–8—A story set in Kentucky horse country during the Civil War. Gabriel, 12, is a slave but dreams of becoming a famous jockey. His father, a free man married to a slave, is a trainer for Master Giles's stable of Thoroughbreds. When the man enlists in the Union Army to earn the money to buy his wife's freedom, Gabriel must adjust to a cruel new trainer. Although the war's impact in Kentucky is less dire than in other Southern states, marauding bands of Confederate raiders terrorize residents, seeking horses, food, and anything else they can steal. One Arm Dan's bunch raids Master Giles's farm, not for food, but for the horses that Gabriel is determined to protect. Outnumbered, his only choice is to take eight of the animals and run. Master Giles, a kind man, rewards the boy's cunning and bravery by granting him his freedom and a paid job as his top jockey. Characters talk about the many faces of freedom, from actual emancipation, to being allowed to learn reading and writing, to realizing the dream of working at what you love. More subtle signs of liberation are seen in the black freemen who call Giles "Mister" and the slaves who address him as "Master." The author grounds this fast-paced tale in historical fact by providing a nonfiction epilogue. Readers will find this wonderful blend of history and horses appealing.—Ann Robinson, Moultonborough Academy Library.
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