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The Winter Horses

Philip Kerr


List Price: 16.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (6/1/2015)
Compact Disc (6/2/2015)
MP3 CD (6/2/2015)
Paperback (2/10/2015)
Library Binding (3/25/2014)


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.

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 9780385755436, 288pp.

Publication Date: March 25, 2014

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

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

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?

Using the phrase, “This is a story

about . . . ,” supply five words

to describe The Winter Horses

and explain your choices.