Set in three European countries where war hits hard in 1914, Morpurgo's book surprisingly puts its focus with a young horse, through whose eyes and mind the reader is familiarized with the atrocities of war as they unfold. While as a literary device this might appear cheap or far-fetched, here it functions in quite a unique way.
Whether witness, victim or participant, Joey (the horse) merely undergoes whilst observing without interacting by means of speech the way that humans would.
The restraint which the author imposes on his narrative in selecting this point of view just works wonders. The further into the story, the reader (whether adult or youngster) gradually conceives a growing sympathy with the war horse and ends up nearly identifying with his animal companion.
Along with Joey, he gets to interact with the people (civilian or military) who temporarily own him and gradually will, of his own account, make a distinction between the ones who approach him fairly or harshly. As he is dragged into the avalanche of warfare, he gets to make sense of the horse's gratitude and emotionality one way, and his pain or distress, another.
To cut (not such) a long story short, to say that Mr Morpurgo does perfect credit to whoever gets dragged into the nightmarish abyss of war at any time and any place, is no exaggeration. His understated style only adds to the qualities that characterize the book as it is.
Perfection is not of this world, so the word goes, but this one comes ever so close.
War horse is a gem. It is a must-read, and not just for young readers.
Read and understand why, at times, books are indispensable.