Title: Honey and the Valley of Horses
Author: Wendy Orr
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Publication date: 1 August 2023
Themes: Adventure, family, grief, healing, horses, fantasy, self-sufficiency, resilience, courage.
Teaching resource: Comprehensive teachers’ notes can be downloaded from the Allen and Unwin website
When sickness sweeps the world, four-year-old Honey, her baby brother, Rumi, their parents and grandmother, Nan Nan, set off in a converted ice cream truck in search of a safer place. They find themselves in an idyllic, enchanted valley with bewitching horses. Honey and the Valley of Horses by Wendy Orr and published by Allen and Unwin is a middle grade, engaging fantasy adventure, for readers 9-13 years.
It is apparent from the start that this Valley is like no other, as the family enters over a bridge that appears seemingly from nowhere and vanishes as soon as they cross it. Here in the Valley, the family are greeted and spellbound by a herd of beautiful horses. These horses pave the way through thick and tangled bush for the family to enter the Valley with its clear flowing creek, rainforest mountain, massive mango tree which comes to be affectionately called The Family Tree. Here the family wants for nothing as they live peacefully and thrive, both resourcefully and sustainably on this tranquil land. Honey and Rumi spend their days exploring, riding bareback on the horses while soaking in the beauty, wonder, possibilities and magic of this utopia. The mystical horses provide companionship as Honey and Rumi learn to ride and communicate with them. It becomes apparent that these horses support the family and provide protection.
The family has come prepared for a stint away from home with food, solar panels, thread and clothing. They survive off the land, the eggs from the pocs (the chickens) that came with them and plant the seeds from all the fruits and vegetables they brought with them to ensure crops of food for the future. They are resourceful when the children grow out of clothes and everything they brought with them is mended, reused and upcycled into something else if needed. They experiment with plants to make threads and dyes.
Living year after year in this enchanted place with no other people means the only world Honey and Rumi come to know is the Valley. Honey can’t recall the last time she ate cake (which was on her fourth birthday, the day they entered the Valley), ice cream is like an alien food to them (even contemplating the texture and sweetness their family describes to them is difficult), they are not familiar with technology (the mobile phones the parents and Nan Nan have with them have no reception). They only know the outside world through the pages of the books they brought with them and the stories their parents and Nan Nan share. They have no contact with the outside world and wonder what has become of it.
When Honey and Rumi’s father becomes sick with suspected appendicitis, it becomes increasingly clear that help is required from the outside world, but leaving the Valley is seemingly impossible. Honey’s intuition, courage and unwavering belief in her horse, together with her younger brother’s bravery, see them work together with their horses to look for a way out of the Valley. Will Honey be able to actually leave and source help in the outside world with her limited knowledge of it and no experience in it, especially given she is 11 years old and needs to find medical assistance? If she does leave the Valley will she be able to return? Is this idyllic place really so perfect if they are forever trapped there, or can they escape?
The climax of this story is thrilling and the action packed sequence of events will keep readers turning the pages to see what unfolds. This is a beautiful story about family bonds and connection, love, resilience, the joy found in exploring the natural world and spirited, magical horses with a dash of wildness.