iPad Book Review: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo Review
Published by Touch Press Reviewed by Guy Dayen
The French have an expression to distinguish the grand events of history from the lesser events. They say "History with a capital H" and "History with a small h". I've always been captivated by the "small h" variety, because it is so much more relatable for me. I'll never enter the realm of kings and presidents, that of men making history-altering decisions; it's just not my life. But the history of every-day people: the culture, the small acts of heroism and charity, the little-known stories, the customs and the ways of life of ordinary people; that has always fascinated me. Perhaps more so, because stories like "War Horse" show us that in the end, history "with a small h" can be just as inspiring and just as meaningful as History "with a capital H".
War Horse is not a true story, but, as the author says in one of the in-app videos, he found out a few years later that something very similar did happen during the First World War, so the historical connection is certainly present here. War Horse is, essentially, the story of a young man and his horse, and of the man's devotion to a magnificent animal. The narrative begins with the arrival of the horse at a small farm, and follows through with the events that unfold when the horse is sent to war, and the young man follows to try and find him. The story was filmed very successfully a few years ago, so the narrative should be a familiar one to many people. I must admit that I'm not a fan of war stories by any means, but War Horse really held my interest the whole way through. It's an excellent tale that will be enjoyed by young and old alike.
Why buy this app rather than simply buying the book? First and foremost, because the presentation of the story is top-notch, and second, because there is also a wealth of supplementary material about World War One and about life at that time. Anyone interested in that period of the 20th century will be delighted by the photographs, by the interactive timeline and by the various video segments presented in the "Insights" section of the book.
The reader can choose to read the story through. The Navigation Menu for doing so is beautifully done: each chapter is represented by a drawing on a scrolling bar. Tapping a drawing brings you to the first page of the chosen chapter. You swipe down to read the chapter. Swiping down at the end of a chapter brings up the following one, which is another way to navigate the story.
A second option is to listen to the story. Michael Morpurgo reads the tale to you, as you follow along. The lines are highlighted as the author reads, so it's very easy to keep up with the story. Morpurgo's voice and accent are perfect for the tale, and make the story even more compelling.
A third option is a terrific way to experience the story of War Horse, and for me, it could stand on its own as reason enough to purchase this app: it is a reading of an abridged version of this story, performed by Michael Morpurgo in front of a live audience, and this man is a master story-teller. He is accompanied by musicians John Tams and Barry Coope. The resulting performance is enchanting, and the live performers bring immediacy to the story in a way that is rarely felt in typical audio books. Playback is flawless, and the video will pick up right where you left off if you don't watch it all in one sitting. I thoroughly enjoyed the video, and I will certainly go back to it now and again, just for the pleasure of hearing the tale told, rather than read.
The Timeline is an extensive source of information. It focuses on France and Belgium, the location of the Western Front in the War, but it also touches on other part of the world where key events took place. The Timeline begins in Pre-War, in 1900. There are almost five hundred entries in the Timeline, accompanied by maps and photos. The reader can zoom in on the photos to better see the details by pinching two fingers in and out. You navigate by swiping up through the months and years if you want to explore the Timeline in chronological order, and you can also choose from a variety of themes, grouped in sections entitled: Theatres of War, Participants, Major Battles and Other Action. As well, you can also jump to any point in the Timeline by tapping the title and choosing the month and year you want to read about. The Timeline is simple and elegant, as is everything in this excellent book.
The second part of the supplementary materials is a collection of wonderfully informative videos. Michael Morpurgo is up first, with background information on his book, as well as his reflections on the First World War and its participants. John Tams and Barry Coope discuss songs in wartime. Piet Chielens, Coordinator of the In Flanders Fields Museum, discusses the cavalry and the workings of the trench system. Julian Farrance, Regimental Museums Liaison Officer at the National Army Museum London talks about the uniform and equipment of the British Army, including a tool called the farrier's axe. Petra Ingram, Chief Executive of The Brooke, which is a charity dedicated to improving the welfare of working horses, donkeys and mules, talks about Dorothy Brooke, the founder of the charity, and about the work of the charity today. Brough Scott, grandson of General Jack Seely, tells the story of Warrior, who was Seely's horse and went with him to the Western Front in 1914 and lived to return to his home and live to the age of 33, which was a rarity, considering that nearly a million horses died in battle during the First World War. Finally, Doran Cart, Senior Curator at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial, tells about that museum and about America's involvement in WWI.
All that information gives the reader a much better understanding of what it was like to be in World War One, and this makes the story of War Horse that much more meaningful because the reader can put it in context with the reality of the time. I know it's a cliche to say that the book is better than the movie, but in the case of this app, I have to say it: this book is superbly done.
I must say that I've looked at most of the books put out for the iPad by Touch Press and I have yet to see one that is anything but excellent. They get it! Anyone who wants to publish for the iPad platform should study what they did and apply it, because they do it right. Reading on the iPad can be the most immersive, multi-media rich experience possible at this point in time, and I firmly believe that even non-readers will be instantly drawn in by the iPad's capabilities. Touch Press are the masters at providing books, both fiction and non-fiction, that will inform, enchant and entrance. I heartily recommend this book and I look forward to their next big release coming out in December, titled The Orchestra. Classical music lovers, rejoice!
Developer: Touch Press Release Date: November 8, 2012 Price: $13.99 (currently half off for Christmas season) Buy App: War Horse