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Reviewed by Fiona Ingram for Readers' Favorite
Zesta and Friendship by Patricia Johnson is about a little boy, Henry Mandras, whose family relocates to Cialtro, Italy. Henry was a bit sad because he’d miss all his friends he’d be leaving behind. However, Zesta, the horse of many colours, was there to guide Henry in this time of great change. Zesta is a special horse, one with unique powers, a companion to all children to help them in those important moments in life, and in making decisions. Zesta reminds Henry that he’ll meet new people, see new places, and make new friends in this wonderful new life. Zesta also helps Henry while away the long hours of the plane trip. Cialtro is a beautiful place where all the houses are painted vivid colours that remind Henry of ice cream.
Once they’d settled into their new home, Henry saw children playing outside and, although Zesta encouraged him to go out and make friends, Henry stuck to his electronic games. However, he did notice a boy who didn’t join in with the other children and he wasn’t invited to be part of any of the team games. Henry also noticed the boy had a limp. When the boy looked at Henry, Zesta said Henry should go and say hello, but he did not. Henry’s mom also saw the boy and said he should come over to meet Henry, but the boy did not. What will happen between Henry and the boy? Will they both pluck up the courage to say hello and become friends? How will the story end?
This is a deceptively simple story with a wealth of thought provoking information for youngsters to ponder on, and for adults to use as discussion topics with children. I liked the idea of an invisible (to others) horse of many colours, who acts as a guide and sometimes a sounding board to help children make decisions or deal with life changing events. Decisions and choices can sometimes make for a bumpy or a smooth ride in life. Happily, Zesta is there to help children make the choice that takes them on a smooth path. Themes covered include relocation, leaving friends, familiar faces, and places behind, arriving in a new country, making new friends, and having the courage to take the first step to extend the hand of friendship. Since the boy has a limp and looks different, children will learn that friendship includes being open and honest with each other.
The most interesting aspect of this book, however, is the fact that the events are repeated in a second story, but with a different choice made by both Henry and the boy, with a different and wonderful outcome. The idea of repeating the whole story is important, I think, for young readers, or children who are being read to. Children never tire of a good story, one that holds their interest, so repeating the story will be intriguing, especially if the parent or teacher tells the child there is something different about this story. An adult would jump straight to the end and ‘get’ the lesson. However, a child will enjoy taking that journey again with Henry and appreciating just where the turn in the tale happens, a turn of events that changes life for both Henry and the little boy, Pierre.
The images are just stunning, with simple yet effective drawings and brilliant, eye catching colours. The images also clearly depict the unfolding of events. The author includes a ‘moral of the story’ to repeat the life lessons learned for young readers, and which teachers and/or parents can use to ask the child their thoughts on the themes woven into the story. A lovely story to read at bedtime, or to use for discussion in class.