Moonsilver is the first book in The Unicorn’s Secret series. It’s written for newly independent readers, with short paragraphs and less than 100 pages. Like many books like this, it also takes some short cuts on character development, but it’s a more complex world than many books for young readers.
Heart Avamir is a young girl who has no memories of her past—her memories start when grumpy old Simon found her wrapped in a fancy blanket. She learns later that the blanket was embroidered with unicorns.
Heart’s life is tough. The whole town has to answer to Lord Dunraven—they must not anger him, they must give him most of the crops, they’re lucky to glean enough grain from what his harvesters leave behind, etc. The people are kept poor and scared. Simon doesn’t love Heart and never has. She’s indebted to him for saving her life, so she works for him from morning to night. The townspeople are suspicious of this mysterious girl and a bit scared of the grumpy guy she lives with (he tends to throw rocks at them if they come too close to his home), so Heart is an outcast. Her only solace is Ruth, the local healer, who seems to know that Heart is more than she appears.
Then Heart finds a white horse, injured and starving. She brings it home and cares for it, then realizes it’s going to have a foal. Simon wants to sell the animals to the Knacker who will kill them and cook their bodies down for tallow. Heart must try to save the mare and her young colt. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that there’s more to these horses than meets the eye.
There are beautiful and detailed pencil drawings every few pages. As someone who used to love horses as a kid, I appreciated the artist’s ability to draw them well.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
It’s pretty clear that Heart lives in a fairly violent world. Hitting people, throwing rocks at people and animals, and other physical punishments seem to be par for the course. There’s nothing explicit in the novel, but it’s not a happy or safe world.
Tibbs is the biggest, meanest 10 year old in the village. He’s not very nice, and Heart is worried that he’s going to hurt the horses. Ruth knows that Tibbs’ father abuses him, and that’s part of what makes Tibbs so mean. She hopes that he has a better future ahead of him.
Lying and Sneaking
Heart tries to hide the horses from the people in the village. She lies to Simon, saying she’ll take the horses to the Knacker when of course she won’t. She takes supplies from him, although she does leave some money to pay for what she took. Most of the villagers survive by trying to steal what they can from Lord Dunraven’s fields and orchards. They need to hide what they have because he can take anything he wants.
Lord Dunraven is angry because the villagers didn’t tell him that the harvesters were leaving more grain behind than they should. He’s going to take half the grain they’ve collected, even though they barely have enough food to survive as it is.
Standing Up for Yourself
Ruth hires Heart to help her out. This means she isn’t around to help Simon as much, so Heart gives Simon all the money she makes. He asks her if what she’s giving him is all of it, which offends her—why would she lie about that? Ruth tells her to start keeping half the money for herself, although she should tell Simon she’s doing it. Then she should hide that money—she obviously can’t trust Simon not to steal it from her. But it’s important for her to start keeping part of what’s rightfully hers.
For young or reluctant readers, there’s a bit more to this story than many books for this level. The illustrations are lovely and evocative. It only feels like part of a story, but like most books this length, to get a complex world you almost have to look at each novel as just part of a whole story. It’s appropriate for newly independent readers, as long as they’re ok with reading about a girl and horses struggling in a pretty harsh world that’s more focused on survival and on greed than it is on love and caring.