I read “The Princess and the Foal” with my 7-year-old daughter over several bedtimes.
This book looks the part. It would make an ideal gift for a young girl (I think 7 is probably too young to read this on their own though and the blurb on Amazon says 9+) because of the dust jacket with the pink and shiny silver parts, the girl there on the cover with the horse, and the fact the story is about a princess. There is also a pink ribbon bookmark which all adds up to making this book feel like something special, even before reading it.
The princess in the book is Princess Haya of Jordan. She is inspired by the real-life Princess Haya, although the book is a work of fiction, so don’t expect all the aspects to be accurate to real life.
The beginning is great. It is a letter from Haya to her dead mama. It is clear that she misses her dearly and she writes of her dreams, things that are to come in the book.
After that we start the story proper with 3-year-old Haya back at a time when her mum, Queen Alia, was alive. However the queen has to go to a hospital urgently to see those less fortunate. She tells Haya, “Your father is the King of a nation. The people of Jordan are all your brothers and sisters and we must love and care for them just like we care for you.” Queen Alia takes the helicopter to be quick, as a storm is on the way, but she is not quick enough and Haya never sees her mother again.
All through the book the grief for her mother shows through, but she finds a release through her love of horses. “The horses at Al Hummar are the most beautiful in all of Arabia. To Haya they are enchanted creatures, with silken manes, muzzles soft as velvet and dark eyes that can see into the soul.” Her father realises this and gets her her own horse, Bint Al-Rhee (meaning daughter of the wind), or Bree for short, for her birthday later saying, “there was so much grief in you that no one could get through. But from the moment you saw that filly, your heart began to open up again, and you came back.”
The journey then takes Haya through bringing up the horse, riding her, and trying to fulfil her dream “to be a champion horse rider. One day I will ride in the King’s Cup.” There are trials and tribulations along the way of course, like Haya being sent to Boarding School in England, and her governess Frances getting in the way of her plans. “Do you think this is what your father wants? He is trying to run a Kingdom and here you are a tomboy nuisance with mud on her knees and horse chaff under her fingernails, causing trouble again with your filthy horses.”
But at the end she does fulfil her dream.
I liked how the book made the young princess into a normal girl, with her being naughty sometimes, and her getting teased by her younger brother. My daughter said, “I think the book is 5 star because it has exciting things happening to a princess, and it tells you to be brave and what to do if you have a pet horse.”
Publication date: 26 September 2013
Amazon UK link: The Princess and the Foal