Parmesan, the Reluctant Racehorse, Jacqui Halpin (author), John Phillips (illus.), Little Pink Dog Books, 2017
Synopsis: Parmesan, the racehorse, thinks he’s a dog. Instead of training with other horses, he’s off with his doggy friends, playing doggy games. Will he be ready to run like a racehorse in the Spring Carnival? A humorous light-hearted tale that celebrates the joy of being yourself and running your own race.
Review: As an animal lover, and someone who particularly adores both horses and dogs, picture book Parmesan, the Reluctant Racehorse made me laugh and feel all warm and toasty at the same time. Written by Jacqui Halpin with humour and heart, Parmesan is a delightful story that kids are sure to relate to – after all, they all tend to get told at some stage that they need to behave differently, and/or be more like a sibling or someone else!
In this picture book, Parmesan the horse just wants to enjoy his days in his own way, and can’t understand why he would ever want to be a racehorse, especially when it means having to leave the side of his best friends, the dogs he has grown up with. Young children will identify with Parmesan’s problem of being told what to do and how to behave “properly”, and will also be giggling at Parmesan’s doggy ways and refusal to acquiesce to the expectations of others.
Throughout the book there is repetition of structure and phrasing which not only gives the story plenty of rhythm, but also provides children with the chance to guess what is coming next, something that’s always appealing to little ones. The horse trainer’s inspired solution to get Parmesan finally involved in the horserace is also clever and sweet, and demonstrates (in a subtle way), how understanding others, rather than forcing or punishing them, can lead to better results for everyone involved.
The illustrations, created by John Phillips, add even more hilarity and texture to Halpin’s story. The pictures are full of colour and movement, and the many details in each spread really bring the settings and characters to life, without overwhelming the reader. Little touches, like naming the racetrack “Flamington”, as a riff on Melbourne’s famous Flemington Racecourse, are great fun, and readers will no doubt pick up on something new in the illustrations each time they peruse the book.
I also really appreciate that the creators of this picture book have chosen to donate a percentage of income from sales to support the retraining and rehoming of retired racehorses, thereby providing them with a new life after racing. Apart from this feel-good factor, parents and educators can use the text as a prompt for discussions about how animals are used by humans around the world (ethically and unethically). The book also works well as a platform to think and talk about themes such as friendship, individuality, and compassion.
Parmesan, the Reluctant Racehorse is suitable for children aged around three years and up.
Please note: a complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.