I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade

Brief Description: 12 yo Mongolian girl makes a sudden and spontaneous decision to disguise herself as a boy to ride with Kublai Kahn’s soldiers when they conscript her favorite horse

Geographical Setting: , , , , , ,

Historical Era:

Date Range: 1270-1281, 1339

Keywords: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Original Publication: 1998

Suitable for Grades: 4-10th

Target Audience: Middle Grade, Teen

Librarian's Review

After a grazing horse accidentally steps on a young toddler on the Mongolian steppe, she is consigned to a lifetime of lameness.  As she grows up, Oyuna is obsessed with horses even though her loving nomadic parents try to protect their disabled only child by keeping her within the confines of their ger (a portable tent), teaching her to cook and sew.  But she is irresistibly drawn to horses, and one day she boldly hops on and discovers a thrilling new freedom from her ineffective crushed foot.

The belief that bad luck plagues her and her family is confirmed by the loss of her mother to a lightning strike when she is twelve years old.  Oyuna yearns for a horse of her own, and her father promises to take her to the annual festival so that she may choose any horse she wants.  Desiring to bring honor to her family by some day winning the big horse race, she expertly searches among the many horses, analyzing each for fitness and potential speed.  Surprisingly she chooses instead an old, injured white mare, whose cry for help she seems to hear in her head.  Her extended family is mystified by her choice, but this special mare turns out to be Oyuna’s destiny.  After the Kahn’s solders raid her village and steal her horse, Oyuna is compelled to leave her family village and journey across unknown lands.  She eventually gains an audience with and charms the Kublai Kahn in China, where her invaluable experience saves the day.

This book is an excellent introduction to Mongolian Horse Culture, showing how the horse pervades many aspects of the shepherds’ lives by providing food, transportation and prestige.  Interestingly, this horse culture has not changed much over the thousands of years since horses were first domesticated in the Asian steppes, and a study of modern Mongolia offers insight into this historical nomadic lifestyle.  Additionally, the main character befriends Kublai Kahn, who is portrayed sympathetically, and one of his wives, Empress Chabi.  Marco Polo makes a very, very brief appearance.  Back matter includes a glossary of Mongolian words, such as ger.  The author’s website lists teacher’s resources.

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