Horse Song

By Ted Lewin, Betsy Lewin
Illustrations by Ted Lewin, Betsy Lewin

In Horse Song, Ted and Betsy Lewin invite readers to join them on a journey halfway around the world for a fascinating glimpse into a friendly and hospitable nomadic culture and its riveting horse races. Here, the creators talk about how they turned their experiences into a beautiful picture book. 

How did you learn about the legendary child jockeys and how did you decide to travel to Mongolia to see them race? 

We had read several articles about the Nadaam and it seemed to us that the story of the child jockeys would make a wonderful picture book. We contacted Nomadic Expeditions, a company that specializes in trips to Mongolia, and told them we wanted to do research for a book about the Nadaam. They arranged for us to stay with a nomadic family of horse trainers to observe how the horses are prepared for the race. We were provided with a guide and driver who got us into the middle of the action in the towns of Bulgan and Dalanzadgad in the Gobi. 

What interested you most about a Naadam horse race? What surprised you? 

The fact that the jockeys are traditionally children from as young as seven years old. We were amazed at their skill and endurance. 

What kind of research did you conduct before leaving for Mongolia? After returning? 

We bought several books on the history and culture of  Mongolia, and Nomadic Expeditions supplied us with  plenty of educational material. When we returned and  started refining our manuscript it was just a matter of  getting the facts right, correct spelling and pronunciation  of Mongolian words. Both Nomadic Expeditions and our guide were extremely generous with this, and our editor  went over everything with a fine tooth comb. 

How did you record your journey so you could turn  it into a book? Do you take a lot of notes while traveling? 

We keep daily journals. Ted’s is reportage, and Betsy’s records the details. On the flight home we combine our notes and work out a rough manuscript. At home, Ted reads it and Betsy types it into the computer, editing, fine tuning, and adding other remembrances. 

How do you record images from your journeys? 

We document everything with a camera, sometimes shooting 150 rolls of film. We also make tape recordings of the ambient sounds which inspire us as we work on the book. 

What are the challenges of turning your experiences into a book? 

The real challenge is to make readers feel as if they are there with us. We try not only to show the action visually, but to make the reader hear, smell, and feel what’s happening. 

How did you begin writing and illustrating books together? 

We always travel together and share the same experiences, and each came back with our own stories. In 1997 we traveled to Uganda to see the mountain gorillas. It turned out to be the most physically challenging trek we’d ever made. 

In the end, we decided that since we shared the misery, we would share the joy in telling the story. With her field sketches Betsy would carry the reader along with us, sharing our forest experience, and poking gentle fun at our mishaps. When we finally encountered the gorillas, Ted would do double page water color paintings, putting the readers right there with us to share this awesome experience. For years people asked us why we never did a book together. It was just a question of finding the right vehicle to accommodate both our artistic styles. Gorilla Walk was our first collaboration. Horse Song follows the same format, and is our fourth offering. 

What do you hope readers will take away from this book? 

A love of travel and adventure, and respect for the natural world and other cultures. 

About This Title

Guided Reading:




Interest Level:

Grades 1 - 6

Reading Level:

Grades 4 - 5


Nonfiction, Sports, Holidays/Traditions, Families, Cultural Diversity, Asian/Asian American Interest, Animals, Persistence/Grit


Adventures Around the World Series, Fluent English, Fluent Dual Language , Athletes and Sports, High-Low Books for Preteens (Grades 4-6), Informational Nonfiction Grades 3-6, Nonfiction Grades 3-6, English Informational Text Middle School, Nonfiction Collection Middle School, Appendix B Diverse Collection Grades 3-6, Asian American Collection English 6PK, English Guided Reading Level T

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