The Silver Donkey, by Sonya Hartnett;
Candlewick Press: Somerville,
Massachusetts, 2014; $8.99
"As they approached the hollow where the man lay, they were aggrieved to spy him sitting up. Clearly he was not dead. And although they had crept as quietly as they could, and kept themselves hidden behind tree trunks and weeds, the sharp-eared man must have heard—for he looked up from the fallen leaves, and stared directly at them.”
This quote from The Silver Donkey starts the amazing adventure of two sisters, little Coco and her older sister, Marcelle, who live in a small town in France. In the middle of a walk in the woods the sisters stumble upon a man they believe is dead, only to find he is a sleeping soldier blinded from war named Lieutenant Shepard.
The Silver Donkey is a book beautifully written by Sonya Hartnett. Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t stop. Maybe it was because of all the details she put in the book, which made it seem like I was really there. Or maybe it was because of her use of metaphors. But it was probably because of how meaningful the book was and how much it moved me. I have always been the type of person who wanted to help other people and that is exactly what Coco and Marcelle wanted to do. Coco and Marcelle did whatever they could to take care of the soldier. They snuck him food, drink, and a pillow. In turn, the soldier dazzled the girls with stories and showed them his good luck charm that he carried with him—a little silver donkey.
During the days ahead, the sisters nourish Shepard with food and comfort and spend as much time with him as possible. They listen as he tells them about his life and the war and, more importantly, four stories, each about a loyal, humble, forgiving, noble, brave, hard-working creature—the donkey. I have always been an animal lover and I have even adopted an elephant from Kenya, but I never knew anything about the donkey. In the stories the donkey was always the hero. Whether it was to carry Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary to Bethlehem, or to rescue wounded soldiers, or to make the sky rain and save a village from drought, or to be a symbol of hope to Shepard’s ill brother and personify a message to always do your best. Shepard also shares with the girls his hope and dream of going home, to cross the Channel to see his sickly younger brother, John.
Even though this is a story about war, I was not scared to read it. What was important to me was the relationship between the soldier and the girls. I love the fact that these girls who are about my age could make such a difference in his life. I think the most important thing in life is to be happy, and I try to make others happy, whether it’s helping a friend who is sad or doing chores for my parents.
At the end of the book the girls find someone to take the soldier on a boat to go home. We don’t know if he makes it in time to see his brother, but my imagination tells me he does. Although I am happy for the soldier, I was sad to see him leave, just like the girls were. However, I was excited to read that he left behind his prized possession for Coco to find—the silver donkey. It was a true buried treasure and a reminder to her to always do her best and be trustworthy and brave.