The Silver Donkey is one of the most elegantly simple and beautiful stories I’ve read in quite a while. The book reminds me of classics like The Secret Garden and has many of the elements of a classic tale from the early 20th century.
During World War I in France two small girls discover a blind and hungry British soldier in the forest. They are fascinated with both him and his good luck charm, a tiny and perfect silver donkey. They bring him food and, over the course of getting to know them, he tells them a series of stories about the silver donkey, one of which is the Christmas story told in a new way. The girls come to know that the soldier has deserted the army and will be in terrible trouble if found. They resolve to help and hide him and he becomes their “secret soldier.”
Coco and Marcel, the two sisters, are tender-hearted girls and the plight of the blind soldier who is trying to walk home even though he is blind, moves them to extraordinary kindnesses. They pilfer their own modest pantry almost bare in feeding the soldier. They also bring their brother into their secret when they need his aid in helping the soldier find his way across the English Channel. What follows is an extraordinary fable of love, loyalty and courage.
The Silver Donkey is beautifully written and the tales within a tale are absolutely charming. The soldier’s story leaves no doubt that war is violent, horrible and changes people in profound and unexpected ways. While this is made clear, it is told in such a simple and honest way that it wouldn’t scare a child. It is gentle and sweet while warning that war is wrong. The book has a sense of wonder and innocence that sparkles.
The illustrations are gorgeously simple as well. Charcoal drawings give the book a classic and old-world feel. Each illustration is charming in its simplicity, yet are very detailed and bring the French countryside as well as the children and the soldier to life. They call to mind the drawings of Garth Williams.
The book itself is a tactile pleasure with smooth, silky pages and a charming silver ribbon to mark your page. I highly recommend this book for children.