In spite of the title, “The Unicorn in the Barn” by Jacqueline K. Ogburn appears to be a realistic middle grade fiction book until the reader encounters the unicorn in the barn. Eric Harper lives on his family’s farm, and he’s still bitter that they had to sell his grandmother’s house, the ancestral family home, when his grandmother had to enter a nursing home.
Eric lives with his father and brother in the house his father built when he married Eric’s mother. She died when Eric was two. He doesn’t remember her, but he has grown up close to his grandmother.
He meets his new neighbor as she is putting up “No Trespassing” signs on the property. Eric and Allegra, the daughter of the veterinarian who bought the property, do not hit it off at first. But when Eric sees them bringing a mysterious animal into the barn at night, he sneaks in to look. He’s shocked to see that it’s a unicorn.
Allegra’s mother, Dr. Brancusi, decides to trust Eric with their secret: They help magical animals. And the unicorn isn’t the only magical animal Eric meets.
Ogburn raises some real ethical issues when Eric wants to cure all the sick animals in the veterinary hospital with the unicorn’s magical horn. And the unicorn really likes Eric, and she doesn’t want to refuse him anything. She cures the young cancer-ridden dog that belongs to Eric’s best friend, but then Dr. Brancusi finds out and warns Eric that not only is it unethical to use a wild animal that way, but that the unicorn, who is pregnant with twins, could be hurt by expending the energy needed to heal others.
Eric and Allegra end up working together to help the unicorn. Eric accidentally discovers that the hair from the unicorn also has healing powers and Allegra makes him a bracelet from unicorn hair to help his grandmother.
Over the course of the book, both Eric and Allegra show their mettle and their bravery. Eric learns not only about loss, but also about his special place in his part of the world.
This book is lovely and will enchant readers both young and old. The character of Eric is well drawn, and readers see that he is a “hero” who is a hero in spite of many faults. He exemplifies the idea that heroes sometimes struggle to know the right thing to do. Animal lovers especially will enjoy meeting the magical creatures who grace these pages. What cat lover wouldn’t want their own Cheshire cat who can disappear at will and speak to humans? This would be a fabulous classroom read aloud.
Please note: This review is based on the advance review copy provided by the publisher, HMH Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.