Reviewed May 6, 2008.
Candlewick Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006. First published in Australia in 2004. 266 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2008: #6, Children's Fiction
One cool spring morning in the woods close to the sea, two girls found a man curled up in the shade and, immediately guessing he must be dead, ran away shrieking delightedly, clutching each other's hands.
In fact, it turns out the man is not dead. He is an enemy soldier, having run away from the war. He cannot see. His eyes got tired of seeing the horrors of war, and his vision clouded over.
He tells the girls not to tell anyone he is there. But how can they help him find his way home, across the Channel? His younger brother is very ill. "The doctors don't think he has long to live. My mother wrote saying that he wakes at night with a fever, calling out for me. She wrote that I should hurry home."
Marcelle and Coco want to help their soldier. But how can two girls help a blind soldier? They start by bringing him food.
The soldier has a good-luck charm, a small shining silver donkey. He repays their kindness by telling them stories, stories of donkeys, which, though humble, turn out to be surprisingly noble.
This book is mythic and powerful. It tells of the horrors of war, but also of the nobility that shines through in difficult times. And the wonder of friendship, across cultures.
The library copy is in a wonderful binding with high-quality pages, silver decoration on the cover, and a silver ribbon bookmark. Illustrations by Don Powers grace its pages, with a special border on the pages of the stories the soldier tells.
A simple and beautiful tale.