The Silver Donkey
Sonya Hartnett, ill. Laura Carlin
London, Walker, 2006, 240p
This is a beautiful little novel. In terms of its emotion and language, it's on par with Michael Morpurgo's work.
The Silver Donkey is set in France during the War. A blind soldier is discovered by two little girls, and a wonderful friendship develops. The soldier wants to get back to his sick brother in England, and the girls long to help - they love the idea of having their little secret. Whilst the children develop an escape plan, the soldier tells them stories, drawing on a little lucky charm he carried - a silver donkey.
The donkey is a very loaded symbol. The stories that the soldier tells speak of modesty, bravery and self-sacrifice. The soldier tells the children that "the donkey belonged to the trustworthy and the brave". It is so beautiful and shiny that the children long to possess it, but know they must deserve it. It's the kind of moral tale that is subtle enough to seep into the subconscious of the reader.
Hartnett's use of language is incredible. She writes in a way a young child could relate to, processing everything slowly and thoroughly. Her story is full of hope and love and innocence - a perfect tale of friendship between a desperate man and some adventurous children. The book is also full of the illustrations of Laura Carlin, who is simply magnificent - thick, bold sketches full of meaning.
This story is perfect for all the family. It has the simple beauty of great junior fiction, but would be loved equally by older children and parents for its cleverness and depth.