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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
Cover of The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
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"Magical, terrifying, and full of heart. Open these pages, and ride true."-Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor-winning author of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
"A remarkable book. Astonishing!"-Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse

There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital—the mirrors that reflect the elegant rooms once home to a princess, now filled with sick children. Only Emmaline can see the creatures. It is her secret.
One morning, Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital's abandoned gardens and discovers something incredible: a white horse with a broken wing has left the mirror-world and entered her own.
The horse, named Foxfire, is hiding from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep him from finding her new friend, she must surround Foxfire with treasures of brilliant shades. But where can Emmaline find color in a world of gray?

"Emmaline's narration is unreliable, flawlessly childlike, and deeply honest; her faith in magic brings her solace and, possibly, healing. The magical realism is reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia, Elizabeth Goudge, or a child's version of Life of Pi...Readers will love this to pieces." —Kirkus Reviews, Starred review
"Endearing characters, metaphors for life and death, and a slow revelation of the horrors of war give this slim novel a surprising amount of heft."—Booklist, Starred review
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill deserves a spot on the shelf next to the most beloved children's classics—yes, even The Secret Garden.
"In clear, gripping, flawless prose,...this exquisite, beautifully illustrated middle-grade novel explodes with raw anguish, magic and hope, and readers will clutch it to their chests and not want to let go."—Shelf Awareness Reviews, Starred review

From the Hardcover edition.
"Magical, terrifying, and full of heart. Open these pages, and ride true."-Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor-winning author of The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp
"A remarkable book. Astonishing!"-Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse

There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital—the mirrors that reflect the elegant rooms once home to a princess, now filled with sick children. Only Emmaline can see the creatures. It is her secret.
One morning, Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital's abandoned gardens and discovers something incredible: a white horse with a broken wing has left the mirror-world and entered her own.
The horse, named Foxfire, is hiding from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep him from finding her new friend, she must surround Foxfire with treasures of brilliant shades. But where can Emmaline find color in a world of gray?

"Emmaline's narration is unreliable, flawlessly childlike, and deeply honest; her faith in magic brings her solace and, possibly, healing. The magical realism is reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia, Elizabeth Goudge, or a child's version of Life of Pi...Readers will love this to pieces." —Kirkus Reviews, Starred review
"Endearing characters, metaphors for life and death, and a slow revelation of the horrors of war give this slim novel a surprising amount of heft."—Booklist, Starred review
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill deserves a spot on the shelf next to the most beloved children's classics—yes, even The Secret Garden.
"In clear, gripping, flawless prose,...this exquisite, beautifully illustrated middle-grade novel explodes with raw anguish, magic and hope, and readers will clutch it to their chests and not want to let go."—Shelf Awareness Reviews, Starred review

From the Hardcover edition.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book

    1

    I have a secret.

    I won't tell Benny and the other boys. They are like dogs in the night, snarling at anything that moves, chasing cats along country roads just for the thrill of watching them run. I won't tell Anna, either, even though she is nice to me and shares her colored pencils, even the turquoise one that is her favorite because it reminds her of the sea near her home. Sister Constance tells me that Anna could die soon, and I should be careful and quiet around her. Around Anna I have to tiptoe, I have to pretend that everything is okay, I have to keep secrets to myself.

    But I'll tell you.

    This is my secret: there are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital.

    2

    Anna is asleep again.

    I lie on the foot of her bed so that I won't wake her, drawing on the backs of the war pamphlets Sister Constance keeps in a stack by the fireplace for the groundskeeper, Thomas, to use as kindling for the wood he has chopped. There is a gilded mirror above Anna's chest of drawers. It reflects the mirror-me. The mirror-Anna, snoring. The mirror-room, with its wool blankets strung over the window to hide our lights from outside at night. And, standing in the mirror-doorway, is a winged horse that isn't in Anna's room at all. The mirror-horse is nosing through the half-finished cup of tea that Anna left on her bedside table. He has a soft gray muzzle that is beaded with droplets of tea, and quicksilver hooves, and snow-white wings folded tightly. It's hard to capture with a pencil how horse ears are both round and pointy at the same time.

    Benny comes in and sneers at my drawing. His thin red hair, combed back with a wide part down the middle, and his sharp hungry eyes make me think of the rawboned hunting dogs that are always looking for something to make a meal of.

    "Horses don't have horns," he says.

    "Those are its ears."

    "They don't have wings, either."

    My hand tightens around the pencil. "Some of them do."

    Benny rolls his eyes. "Sure, and Bog is actually a dragon, even though he looks like a flea-bitten old collie."

    Anna wakes, then, and tells Benny to leave, and he does because Anna is the oldest and because she asks him nicely.

    "Come here, Emmaline," Anna says, "and show me what you've drawn."

    She wraps her cardigan around my shoulders as I crawl into bed next to her, and gives me a tight squeeze, as snug as if I were home. "What lovely creatures," she says as she inspects my drawing. "You've such an imagination."

    She smiles warmly, but she smells sour, like milk left outside too long. Her face is very pale, except for the places where it is so red it looks chapped, even though it has been many weeks since she has been outside.

    I glance at the mirror.

    The winged horse has grown bored with Anna's tea and is backing out of the mirror-room, bumping his rump against the tight angles of the mirror-hallway. I cover my mouth to keep from giggling. Anna can't see the winged horses in the mirrors.

    No one can—only me.

    It was late summer when I first arrived at Briar Hill. Sister Constance took me straight to her office and removed the identification tag pinned to my coat. While she made notations in a ledger, I tried to smooth my tufts of hair in the mirror above her desk. Then, completely out of nowhere, completely without warning, a winged horse clomped straight through the mirror-doorway, prim as anything, tail held high, as though...

About the Author-
  • MEGAN SHEPHERD grew up in her family's independent bookstore in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is the author of several acclaimed young adult books, and The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is her debut middle-grade novel. Shepherd lives and writes on a 125-year-old farm outside Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband, two cats, and a dog. You can visit her at meganshepherd.com
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    August 29, 2016
    Shepherd (The Cage) blends the historical with the fantastical in her deeply moving first middle grade novel, set during WWII. Twelve-year-old narrator Emmaline is convalescing in a hospital in the British countryside for children with “stillwaters,” the girl’s term for tuberculosis. Emmaline chafes at the requirement to remain cloistered indoors, and instead sneaks off to the sundial garden on the estate’s grounds. Emmaline believes she sees winged horses in the hospital’s mirrors, and when a horse with a broken wing appears in the sundial garden, having apparently crossed over from the mirror world, Emmaline resolves to protect her from a malevolent black horse. Shepherd’s strong supporting cast includes a benevolent doctor, a one-armed handyman named Thomas, a kind older girl named Anna, and a boisterous group of boys, as well as the nuns who tend to them. Shepherd leaves the story’s fantasy elements tantalizingly open-ended—it’s for readers to decide whether the winged horses Emmaline sees and the “Horse Lord” she corresponds with are products of her rich imagination—yet the magic in the relationships she builds, even the tragic ones, is undeniable. Ages 10–up. Author’s agent: Josh Adams, Adams Literary.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from July 15, 2016
    A young English World War II refugee finds magic tending the winged horses who live in the mirrors of her sanatorium. Emmaline May (her age is never given, though readers can extrapolate that she's older than 8, younger than 13; as well, she's not described as white, but, along with everyone else in the novel, probably is due to its setting) misses her parents, her older sister, and the horses that helped with the deliveries of her family's bakery. The horses were lost in the Blitz, and now Emmaline, afflicted with a disease she calls the "stillwaters," lives without her family in a former manor home-turned-pediatric hospital. Only she can see the horses in the mirrors; only she can see the mare with a damaged wing who comes to live in the walled garden. The Horse Lord leaves a note detailing what Emmaline must do to save the mare's life, and she embarks upon a quest made increasingly difficult by her declining health. Emmaline's narration is unreliable, flawlessly childlike, and deeply honest; her faith in magic brings her solace and, possibly, healing. The magical realism is reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia, Elizabeth Goudge, or a child's version of Life of Pi.The right readers will love this to pieces. (Historical fiction. 7-11)

    COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • School Library Journal

    August 1, 2016

    Gr 5-8-Featuring an unreliable narrator, this darkly atmospheric and humorless novel, set in a British countryside hospital for children with tuberculosis during World War II, blurs the line between fantasy and reality. Emmaline sees winged horses in the mirrors, meets a fugitive white-winged horse in the garden, and follows the Horse Lord's written instructions to steal a rainbow of brightly colored objects in order to protect the creature from a terrifying, menacing black-feathered horse. Mature and experienced readers might notice that the driven, earnest narrator stops seeing horses whenever she faces the painful realities of her life, but Shepherd deftly keeps the action going to distract from this fact. Chapters are all very short and well formed around single events, giving the book a choppy unevenness that emphasizes how silly Emmaline's quest really is; if it weren't so deeply psychological and gloomy, filled with vividly bleak imagery of bad weather, overworked nuns poorly supervising sick children mid-war in midwinter, and velvet-coated, warm-eyed horses, the story would border on absurdity. VERDICT Ideal for readers who love to immerse themselves in emotionally wrought period pieces.-Rhona Campbell, Georgetown Day School, Washington, DC

    Copyright 2016 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist, Starred review "Endearing characters, metaphors for life and death, and a slow revelation of the horrors of war give this slim novel a surprising amount of heft."
  • MARY BROWN, BOOKS, BYTES & BEYOND, NJ "A story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it."
  • RAE ANN PARKER, PARNASSUS BOOKS, TN "A classic magical feel with a heart-pounding story."
  • KARI MEUTSCH, PHOENIX BOOKS, VT "The seven-to-ten-year-old version of myself would have been in love with this book, reading and rereading until it fell apart as badly as my well-worn copy of The Secret Garden."
  • CHRISTOPHER ROSE, ANDOVER BOOKSTORE, MA "The Secret Horses of Briar Hill has all the elements of a lasting classic."
  • CINDY NORRIS, MALAPROP'S BOOKSTORE/CAFÉ, NC
    "A masterful novel."
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    Random House Children's Books
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