The Winter Horses (Hardcover)

By Philip Kerr

Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780385755436, 288pp.

Publication Date: March 25, 2014



From Philip Kerr, the"New York Times"bestselling author of the Bernie Gunther novels, comes a breathtaking journey of survival in the dark days of WWII in Ukraine, a country that remains tumultuous today. This inspiring tale captures the power of the human spirit and is perfect for fans of"The Book Thief, ""Milkweed," and"The""Boy in the Striped Pajamas."
It will soon be another cold winter in the Ukraine. But it's 1941, and things are different this year. Max, the devoted caretaker of an animal preserve, must learn to live with the Nazis who have overtaken this precious land. He must also learn to keep secrets for there is a girl, Kalinka, who is hiding in the park.
Kalinka has lost her home, her family, her belongings everything but her life. Still, she has gained one small, precious gift: a relationship with the rare wild and wily Przewalski's horses that wander the preserve. Aside from Max, these endangered animals are her only friends until a Nazi campaign of extermination nearly wipes them out for good.
Now Kalinka must set out on a treacherous journey across the frozen forest to save the only two surviving horses and herself.

About the Author

Philip Kerr is the New York Times bestselling author of the WWII Bernie Gunther crime novels and the children's fantasy series Children of the Lamp. He lives in England."

Conversation Starters from

  1. In the note at the beginning of the novel, the author shares that, while there is no real evidence that the heroes of the story existed, “if there is one truth greater than all the others, it is that there are times when history must take second place to legend.” Do you agree? How would you define legend? What are some other examples of legends that overshadow history?
  2. As the book opens, readers learn that the senior manager of the State Steppe Nature Reserve of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic has chosen to flee the reserve and urges Max to do the same. Why do you think Max refuses to leave the animals behind or to put them down? What do you think you would do if you were forced to make a similar decision?
  3. Throughout the story, both Kalinka and Max display extreme perseverance. What drives them to persevere, and do they persevere differently or similarly? What perseverance traits do you possess? Are they more like Max’s or Kalinka’s?
  4. After learning that the captain has given the horse Molnija the new name Lightning, Max tells Grenzmann, “I can’t say I hold with giving animals new names any more than I hold with killing them for no good reason” (p. 39). In your opinion, why does Max feel so compelled to speak out against the actions of the soldiers? Do you think it’s wise of him to do so? Why or why not?
  5. Kalinka tells Max, “Tell me about yourself. How did you come here? And when? And why? Please, Max. It’s been a long time since anyone told me a story at bedtime” (p. 61). What does her acknowledgment that much time has passed since she’s had the luxury of a bedtime story tell us about her experiences? What are your own memories of bedtime stories?
  6. When Kalinka tells Max about the tragic fate of her family, we learn that a stranger helped save her life. Why do you think the stranger chose to help Kalinka? Do you believe that the actions of a single person can make a difference?
  7. After criticizing him for accepting an invitation to dinner with the German soldiers, Kalinka changes her attitude as she tells Max, “You’ve achieved a great deal. Thanks to you risking your life, there are two Przewalski’s horses still alive. Not to mention me” (p. 97). In what ways does Kalinka understand all that Max is risking for her and the horses? Do you find her to be sufficiently grateful for his sacrifice?
  8. Given what Kalinka shares about her life before she is forced to flee, how aware of the political tension in her country do you think she is? Do you think teens today are as aware of the political climate in their own countries?
  9. How does Taras, Max’s dog, understand the loss of his master? Though she has already lost her family, why does the knowledge of Max’s death become a tipping point for Kalinka?
  10. Using the phrase, “This is a story about . . . ,” supply five words to describe The Winter Horses and explain your choices.