This bright, breezy picture-book debut by Toronto author-illustrator Kelly Collier marks the first time I have ever seen the myth of Narcissus reworked with a horse in the starring role. The eponymous equine, like Cephissus and nymph Liriope’s self-infatuated kid, has a high opinion of himself. One day, Steve discovers a gold horn in the forest, and immediately recognizes it as the means by which he can truly become what he always believed himself to be: exceptional. He straps the horn to his head, unicorn-style, and sets off to display his manifest exceptionality to the rest of the forest animals.
As Steve conducts his bragging tour, the horn comes loose and slips under his chin. For a moment, he believes it lost, until he looks into a lake and sees the horn in his reflection. Mistaking the reflection for the real thing, he falls into the water and loses the horn completely. Meanwhile, other animals have been copying Steve by strapping things (a branch, a stone, an acorn, etc.) to their own heads. Steve, after a moment of despair, decides that not having anything on his head makes him exceptional yet again.
A Horse Named Steve has a spare, wintry colour scheme (black and white, with pale green highlights) that belies the book’s abundant charms. The narrative skips along with the lightness and brio of a show horse. That Steve is never really shaken in his desire to be exceptional is in keeping with the book’s light touch. Many pages include knowing annotations that add to the sense that Collier favours fun over moral messaging. Tonally and structurally, the book is reminiscent of the works of Mélanie Watt, and though Steve isn’t as memorable or instantly iconic a character as, say, Scaredy Squirrel, he is every bit as enjoyable to read about.