Our selection for adult readers is Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead. Published in April 2007, Olmstead's novel follows a young man through the life-altering landscape of the Civil War. Sent to retrieve his father from the battlefields, he takes a wise and loyal horse to assist him on his treacherous journey. Returning safely back home, he has been forever changed by all that he has seen of war. Coal Black Horse was recently selected as the 2007 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize winner for fiction. You can learn more about the book at the official website.

Set within the time frame of the Civil War, this selection also coincides with the Bicentennial Celebration of the birth of Abraham Lincoln, which will officially begin on Feb 12, 2008. We are pleased that Olmstead's publisher, Algonquin Books, will be providing support for this program.

Regular print, large print, electronic, and audio (unabridged) versions of the book are available at the Library.


"Sparsely told and graphically depicted...a small-scale epic."
-Library Journal, November 2007

"Powerful and poetic."
-Library Journal, December 2006

"The characterization is superb, and the coal black horse is unforgettable."
-VOYA Reviews, October 2007

"Olmstead's novel resonates with language and cadences reminiscent of revered legends and so has the feel of fable or mythology. Indeed, in its powerful and wrenching story of a boy's passage, Coal Black Horse reads like an instant classic."
-Mark Puttman, Popular Library, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County


As he walked along the fence lines that cold, silky spring evening, he let a hickory stick rattle along the silvered split rails. He was thinking about his father gone to war. Always his father, always just a thought, a word, a gesture away. He spoke aloud to him in his absence. He asked him questions and made observations. He said good night to him before he fell asleep and good morning when he woke up. He thought it would not be strange to see him around a corner, sitting on a stool, anytime, soon, now. (p.2)

He unsaddled the coal black horse to let its back cool in the moon-dappled shade. He ran his hands over its legs and lifted each foot to check for cracks in the hoof walls. He sorted the cockleburs from its high-set tail. He wondered at how indifferent the horse was to pain, how immune to weakness. He had long since come to understand and accept how superior the animal was to him, and he did not mind this fact but appreciated it. (p.33)

In some places, the horse was at a loss how to proceed through the wild and dreary land but figured its path on the move and pursued it with abandon. The timber grew large and the woods became crowded with underbrush and fallen trees and rocks, and more than once the coal black horse found passage that would have scraped him from its back had he not lifted his legs or bent low in its neck. But it did not matter. Nothing mattered as they traveled deeper into the North to intercept the army. (p.112)

Long afterward, he would remember how fifty miles away he heard the thunder of cannons echoing through the blue mountains, the reverberations of the bombardment that preceded, he was to learn, the final charge of the fateful battle. The next afternoon, he rode through a drenching rainstorm that leeched the July landscape of all color and after dark he met the saturated vanguard of the gray retreating south. (p.113)