The Silver Donkey

Overview

From extraordinary novelist Sonya Hartnett comes a gently told fable of a lost soldier, heroic children, and a steadfast donkey.

One morning in the woods of World War I France, two young sisters stumble upon an astonishing find — a soldier, temporarily blinded by war, who has walked away from battle longing to see his gravely ill younger brother. Soon the care of the soldier becomes the girls' preoccupation, but it's not just the secret they share that emboldens them to steal ...

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Overview

From extraordinary novelist Sonya Hartnett comes a gently told fable of a lost soldier, heroic children, and a steadfast donkey.

One morning in the woods of World War I France, two young sisters stumble upon an astonishing find — a soldier, temporarily blinded by war, who has walked away from battle longing to see his gravely ill younger brother. Soon the care of the soldier becomes the girls' preoccupation, but it's not just the secret they share that emboldens them to steal food and other comforting items for the man. They are fascinated by what he holds in his hand — a tiny silver donkey. As the girls and their brother devise a plan for the soldier's safe passage home, he repays them by telling four wondrous tales about the humble donkey — from the legend of Bethlehem to a myth of India, from a story of rescue in war to a tale of family close to the soldier's heart. Sonya Hartnett explores rich new territory in this inspiring tale of kindness, loyalty, and courage.

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Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Ward
The setting is rural France during World War I, and the man in the woods is…an English soldier fleeing "the unspeakable trenches." He is also blind, a fact that fascinates the girls almost as much as the tiny silver donkey that "twinkled and glimmered" in his hand. They and their brother take care of him, and he, in return, tells them the tales of four donkeys, including the one that once carried a woman to Bethlehem. The small beasts become the book's quiet heroes, emblems of patience, trustworthiness and bravery. Self-centered Marcelle, Coco and Pascal don't remotely become saints—the emotionally fastidious Hartnett appears to be incapable of writing a sentimental sentence&151;but one closes the book sure that they have in some vague way been blessed by these revelations of the donkey's "peaceful grace." Certainly, that is an apt description of Hartnett's lapidary style.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Hartnett's (Surrender) latest offering, set in France during the Great War, is at once delicately told and deeply resonant. When two sisters, eight-year-old Coco and 10-year-old Marcelle, discover a blind and hungry soldier in the woods, they befriend him, bringing blankets and bits of food that can be pilfered from their meager pantry. The girls are delighted with their secret soldier, and Coco is particularly enchanted with his good luck charm, a silver donkey. They are reluctant to tell anyone about this unhappy man in the forest until they realize they alone cannot help him return to his home across the channel-his one desire after all he has seen in the war. They enlist the help of their older brother, Pascal, whom they believe is clever enough to hatch a plan. In turn, the soldier tells the children allegorical tales about honesty, loyalty, courage and kindness drawn from the Bible, folklore and his own life-all featuring a donkey. Though Pascal yearns to hear about the "riveting adventures from the war," the soldier's story of a donkey's sacrifice and goodness in battle conveys a wholly different message. The novel's nostalgic tone evokes the period but also delivers a timely message. This tender fable of peace will linger with both younger and older readers. Ages 10-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Jennie DeGenaro
During World War One, two little sisters in France are astounded when they find a soldier in the woods near their home. When they realize he is alive and hungry, they secretly bring him food and supplies. Before long, they reluctantly include their older brother in their secret. They want to help the lieutenant get back home across the Channel. Not only is he a stranger in a strange land, he is psychologically blinded by his war experiences. The lieutenant has served honorably and bravely, saving many soldiers from certain death. The soldier is a good storyteller and entertains the children with many tales based on morality and great values. Readers will be interested to learn how the children are successful in helping the soldier return to his homeland. The lieutenant has a small, silver donkey, which he tells them is his lucky charm. Coco, the younger sister, loves the little silver donkey and when the lieutenant leaves, he hides it in a secret place for her. The children are sad when he leaves, but happy that he can go home to his family and sick younger brother. The aesthetic qualities of this book include the content, attractive binding, printing, and artwork. It is sure to be a most treasured gift.
VOYA - Christine Sanderson
Hartnett's novel is a war story that focuses on a different type of bravery. Lieutenant Shepard, a British soldier fleeing the battlefield in France during World War I, is discovered in the woods by two little girls, Marcelle and Coco. They agree to help him return home. Their brother Pascal and adult friend Fabrice devise a plan to get him across the English Channel. In exchange for their help, the lieutenant tells tales inspired by his good luck charm, a miniature silver donkey. The stories stress a donkey's virtues: courage, patience, humility, and forgiveness. These virtues also apply to the lieutenant, despite the fact that he has "run away from the war," and to Fabrice, who although crippled by polio, still offers his help. "I will help get you there, and then I will know that I, too, can do something worthwhile.o Although Harnett does not gloss over the horrors of war-"Hunched at his feet was a young man. Blood was washing from him, drenching his uniform"-the focus of this story is peace. The writing is filled with simple images. "The trees whispered mellowly to each other." The soldier's tales convey the notion that true courage means service to others. Powers's illustrations complete the mood with their quiet beauty. Readers who, like the character Pascal, are looking for the excitement of the battlefield will not find it here. This war story will appeal to readers who are looking for peace, tranquility, and unlikely heroes.
KLIATT
This novel is a gentle tale of two young children who find an emotionally wounded soldier in the French woods and seek to help him return to England. The title refers to a good luck piece that Lieutenant Shephard carries in his pocket and shares with Coco, the younger of the two girls. As Marcelle and Coco sneak food from their home to feed Shephard, he shares with them four tales of donkeys, their humility and their bravery, starting with the donkey that carried Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and ending with his own brother, who found the silver donkey charm in the garden. Coco is particularly fascinated by the charm and the tales the soldier tells. But Marcelle realizes they will not be able to help him. The girls bring in their brother, Pascal, and his friend, Fabrice, an older youth whose legs were weakened by polio, as they plot to ferry Shephard across the English Channel. Shephard has had his share of trauma in the war, has seen his share of battles and relives them as he waits for Pascal and Fabrice. The young Frenchmen, who dream of being soldiers, find a different kind of bravery as they help the soldier return to England. This is a war story that shows the courage and goodwill of humanity. KLIATT Codes: J--Recommended for junior high school students. 2006, Candlewick Press, 272p., $15.99.. Ages 12 to 15.
—Janis Flint-Ferguson
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-A lieutenant walks away from a battle in France during World War I. Tired of the fighting and unable to see, he wants to return home to England. Two French sisters living near the English Channel find him and provide him with food and other supplies. The girls quickly realize that caring for the soldier is more than they can handle and involve their brother and his friend. As the days pass and the boys work on a plan to help the man across the channel, the soldier shows the children a small good-luck charm in the shape of a donkey. During the course of the book, he tells them four tales about the creature, the first one being a version of the Christmas Story. Gradually, readers learn that the soldier is not blind, but that he has closed his eyes to the violence around him. This is a charming book in many ways. In spite of its setting, it's a gentle story that introspective readers will find satisfying.-Jane G. Connor, South Carolina State Library, Columbia Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Marcelle and Coco, "two skinny, flash-eyed little girls, wild as kittens born under stables," aged ten and eight respectively, discover a blind British soldier, an army deserter, in the woods near their French village. It's WWI, and Lieutenant Shepard has not come out of the war with all his faculties intact. Hartnett's timely, haunting depiction of the grimness and waste of war, her piercing exploration of moral issues such as bravery verses cowardice and the importance of truth are curiously, though effectively, juxtaposed with an old-fashioned children's story. The girls and their 13-year-old brother secretly bring the soldier food and supplies, and, in spite of the danger, are determined to help him cross the Channel and return home. The Lieutenant's good-luck charm, a small silver donkey symbolizing different things to each character, is at the hub of this hard-to-define yet exquisitely written fable. Ostensibly a gift from his ailing little brother, it inspires the telling of four allegorical tales all of which feature clever, reliable, self-sacrificing donkeys. Thirteen quietly evocative black-and-white pencil illustrations complement the text. Hartnett's powerful imagery and her inimitable deftness with language lift this multi-genre work high off the ground. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
From the Publisher
"Who's there?" cried the man, and then repeated it in a language that the sisters understood. "Qui est là? Who's there?"

He looked toward Marcelle and Coco and must have seen two skinny, flash-eyed little girls, wild as kittens born under stables, the taller dressed in her brother's hand-me-downs, the smaller rumpled as a street urchin - but then he looked to the moldery soil and up into the trees, and behind himself toward the distant sea. . . . He scrambled backward in the dirt, covering his knees in mud. "Who is there?" he asked again.

Marcelle and Coco stared. . . . "It's just us," said Marcelle. "No one else."

The man stopped scrabbling and became very still. . . . "I can't see you," he said nervously. "I'm blind. Who are you?"

. . . The girls, emboldened, peered more closely at their discovery, stepping from the shadows like fawns. They saw that the man had untidy brown hair and that his face was rather dirty. Coco, who had a sparrow's quick eyes, saw that he held something silver and enticing in his palm, something that twinkled and gleamed. . . . "I'm Marcelle," she told him. "I'm ten. This is my sister, Coco. She's eight. Her real name is Thérèse, but everybody calls her Coco."

. . . "Are you a soldier?" asked Coco unexpectedly.

The man hunkered against the tree. "Why do you ask that?"

"Well, you are a bit like a solider. You have a soldier's blanket and a soldiers' boots. And once there were soldiers who slept a night in our village and they spoke in a funny way, the same way you do."

"It's called an accent," said Marcelle with superiority.

The man was fidgeting, casting his blind gaze about. The fascinating silver thing remained closed in his hand, gleamy as a fishhook, hidden as a jewel. He said, "I am a solider - well, I used to be. I'm not one anymore."
_______

THE SILVER DONKEY by Sonya Hartnett. Copyright © 2006 by Sonya Hartnett. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA."THE SILVER DONKEY is a testament to bravery, loyalty, and sacrifice. The collection of intriguing tales provides a gentle but unflinching look at the horrors of war as well as the power of innocence. " — Jimmy Carter — Jimmy Carter

Children's Literature - Beverley Fahey
On a quiet spring morning, two little girls, Marcelle and Coco find a blind English soldier hiding in the woods near their home. He has walked away from the horrors of war at the Front and wants to return to his ailing younger brother across the Channel. The children are eager to help and are not only intrigued by the young man but also fascinated by the tiny silver donkey he clutches tightly in his hand. The donkey, a gift from his brother and his talisman, prompts the Lieutenant to tell the girls four stories that focus on the donkey. Each tale is an allegory that illustrates donkey’s bravery, humility, and resilience and become life lessons for the children. The little girls bring food and warm clothing and while they revel in his stories they know they cannot hide him for long. With the aid of older brother Pascal and his friend, the children embark on a dangerous mission to help the soldier reach the safety of home. World War I provides the backdrop for this sensitive and finely crafted novel. The children’s innocence and the young man’s emotional wounds are explored in beautiful language and they are expertly woven into a suspenseful story. The little silver donkey exudes such warmth that it is easy to forget he is not a living creature. This perfect tale is a fine stand-alone but can become an excellent discussion book for middle readers. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey; Ages 10 to 14.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780763636814
  • Publisher: Candlewick Press
  • Publication date: 9/11/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Age range: 10 years
  • Product dimensions: 4.88 (w) x 7.13 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Sonya Hartnett is the acclaimed author of THURSDAY'S CHILD, WHAT THE BIRDS SEE, STRIPES OF THE SIDESTEP WOLF, SURRENDER, and several other novels. She has won many awards, including the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award for THE SILVER DONKEY. Sonya Hartnett lives in Australia.

Don Powers is a fine artist who specializes in portraits and landscapes. THE SILVER DONKEY is his first book for children. He lives in Thomasville, Georgia.

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Read an Excerpt

"Who's there?" cried the man, and then repeated it in a language that the sisters understood. "Qui est là? Who's there?"

He looked toward Marcelle and Coco and must have seen two skinny, flash-eyed little girls, wild as kittens born under stables, the taller dressed in her brother's hand-me-downs, the smaller rumpled as a street urchin - but then he looked to the moldery soil and up into the trees, and behind himself toward the distant sea. . . . He scrambled backward in the dirt, covering his knees in mud. "Who is there?" he asked again.

Marcelle and Coco stared. . . . "It's just us," said Marcelle. "No one else."

The man stopped scrabbling and became very still. . . . "I can't see you," he said nervously. "I'm blind. Who are you?"

. . . The girls, emboldened, peered more closely at their discovery, stepping from the shadows like fawns. They saw that the man had untidy brown hair and that his face was rather dirty. Coco, who had a sparrow's quick eyes, saw that he held something silver and enticing in his palm, something that twinkled and gleamed. . . . "I'm Marcelle," she told him. "I'm ten. This is my sister, Coco. She's eight. Her real name is Thérèse, but everybody calls her Coco."

. . . "Are you a soldier?" asked Coco unexpectedly.

The man hunkered against the tree. "Why do you ask that?"

"Well, you are a bit like a solider. You have a soldier's blanket and a soldiers' boots. And once there were soldiers who slept a night in our village and they spoke in a funny way, the same way you do."

"It's called an accent," said Marcelle with superiority.

The man was fidgeting, casting his blind gaze about. The fascinating silver thing remained closed in his hand, gleamy as a fishhook, hidden as a jewel. He said, "I am a solider - well, I used to be. I'm not one anymore."

_______

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  • Posted May 2, 2009

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    TWINKLED AND GLIMMERED

    Australian author Sonya Hartnett's writing is, as usual, remarkable. The art by Don Powers is fabulous. Like the tiny silver donkey in this parable I found that this book "twinkled and glimmered" in my hand. Not only for children, adults will love this book too.

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