From the very beginning, Adrian Simcox is set apart from his lavendar and aubergine classmates by his bright orange hair and shirt. Actually two shirts, which careful readers will discover he alternates wearing, although his peers cycle through a far greater assortment of delightfully-detailed and unique clothing. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse tackles the very complex themes of poverty and judgement in a tender way directed at children (but still absolutely compelling for adults) that prods at the very core of the soul, bound to elicit empathy in all and tears in some. The initially self-righteous Chloe can at first only see the situation through a very narrow lens. She picks up on the elements of poverty visible to children at school—free lunch and holes in Adrian’s shoes—and is so focused on the literal truth that Adrian Simcox cannot possibly own a horse that she misses the broader truth until aided there by a loving guide: her mother. The mother in this story is particularly laudable for the way she doesn’t lecture but provides Chloe the opportunity to see the situation for herself and develop empathy. All the while, the mother demonstrates the appropriate way to treat everyone, regardless of their economic circumstances—as equals. While Campbell’s text conjures up images all by itself with vibrant descriptions such as “even though it wasn’t trash day, it looked like it was,” it is their combination with Luyken’s striking illustrations that make this beyond compare. Luyken’s genius use of negative space and background elements, such as foliage, to create Adrian’s horse throughout the book showcases the very real power of imagination. As the horse becomes increasingly apparent as the book progresses, it suggests the importance of positive energy in feeding imagination. The seeming abruptness of the ending is slightly jarring, but adds to the force of emotion that gives this story its power for change in the hearts and minds of its readers.
The “Storytelling Illustrations” badge is awarded to books with illustrations that exceptionally enrich the story.
This book is just beautiful: the story itself, the message, and of course the illustrations! The way that Adrian Simcox's white horse with the golden mane emerges from the white space, again and again, is amazing and truly captures the power and reality of imagination. Reminiscent of the oft-posed question of which is better—a lie that brings a smile or a truth that brings a tear—this story lands soundly on the side of the beauty of imagination and our power to create our own world.
It is a strange fact of human nature that when we know a thing, really know the facts of a thing, we want everyone else to validate the truth of our knowing. Chloe knows that Adrian does not have a horse; it just isn't possible. She is forceful with her knowledge, trying to convince her classmates that what Adrian is telling them is just plain wrong. Then at about the middle of the book, while hanging upside down from the monkey bars, she realizes that she is making Adrian really sad, and all of a sudden, it isn't so much about whether Adrian has a horse. Chloe gets to learn that there are things more important than facts. Three cheers for Chloe's mother who is accepting and not at all judgmental. Her patient example and matter-of-fact manner help Chloe to find what is really important. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful; Corinna Luyken uses the white space masterfully, sometimes filling it up with schoolyard or neighborhood or backyard and at other times leaving plenty of white space for emotion and imagination.
Marcy Campbell lives in Ohio with her family and menagerie of rescued pets. Her writing for adults has been published widely in journals and magazines, including Salon. She grew up on a farm filled with cows, chickens, cats, and dogs, but she never had a horse. Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse is her debut picture book.
Corinna Luyken is the author-illustrator of THE BOOK OF MISTAKES, which received four starred reviews and has been praised by Entertainment Weekly, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and more. She also illustrated ADRIAN SIMCOX DOES NOT HAVE A HORSE, written by Marcy Campbell. And is she the author-illustrator of the forthcoming MY HEART, which will be released January 8, 2019. She lives in Olympia, WA with her husband, daughter, and two cats.
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