Lisa Doucet Reviews Slowpoke the Bell Island Mine Horse by Heather Smith
Slowpoke the Bell Island Mine Horse
Heather Smith, illustrated by Genevieve Simms
“Don’t worry,” Jimmy tells his little sister. “I’ll be okay.”
He says this to her as he sets out for his first day of work in the mine. Another boy named Leo is also going underground for the first time, but Leo is surrounded by family members.
Jimmy is alone. His father died in the mine when he was hit by a runaway tram car many years ago.
Jimmy is nervous and shaky as he tries to do his assigned tasks, until the foreman assigns him the job of looking after an old mine horse named Slowpoke. Jimmy brings out the best in Slowpoke, and Slowpoke becomes Jimmy’s very best friend.
When a miner gets trapped beneath a runaway tram car, Jimmy and Slowpoke save the day. And Jimmy discovers a precious new connection with both Slowpoke and his beloved father.
In this heartfelt tribute to the miners of Bell Island, short sentences and simple, restrained prose quietly but powerfully capture Jimmy’s anxiety and fear, the stark reality of life in the mines and the unspoken bravery of the men and boys who went down into those mines each day.
Jimmy knows the dangers, but also the importance, of this work; he knows that “someone had to help put food on the table.”
Yet, despite the grownup demands of his life, he is still a child. A child who desperately misses the father he barely knew. A child who is afraid of the terrible dangers that the mine holds.
The kindness of the foreman, the special bond that Jimmy develops with Slowpoke and the unexpected link to his father give this story a depth and resonance that will touch many hearts.
Illustrator Genevieve Simms uses loose, thin, wispy lines and a subdued palette with soft bursts of colour to capture the landscape. Her illustrations are precise, textured and expressive, strengthening the story’s emotional impact. Together, the words and images tell a sombre yet beautiful story of resilience and love.