Monday, December 11, 2006


THE SILVER DONKEY by Sonya Hartnett, illustrated by Don Powers (Candlewick)
Giselle and Coco come across an AWOL soldier in the woods, hungry and cold, without eyesight and with nothing upon his person but a small silver donkey. While the girls sneak food and blankets to their secret friend, he shares stories of donkeys, brave, steadfast and martyred: Ruth's donkey who carried Mary to Bethlehem; a folkloric porquoi tale in which a donkey saves the world from drought by bearing the suffering of others; and a tale that reflects the soldier's own experience in the trenches of the first World War. Can the girls give up the secret of the soldier in order to help him find his way across the channel, to the loving brother who awaits him? What does it really mean to be brave?

Every year around the holidays, I seem to have the good luck of finding a book that is a pleasure to give to just about anybody, and this year, THE SILVER DONKEY is that book. Beautifully and simply packaged in a silver embossed cover and an interior laid out with matching silver accents, graphite illustrated plates and a ribbon for keeping one's place. A book that looks and feels like this one is the very reason that we still read books on paper and not on screens. But apart from the loveliness of the thing, the story deftly captures the exhilaration of secrets and hearing stories, and the urgency of the problem at hand. The sometimes argumentative banter of the sisters and their comandeering brother is believable, and the three donkey vignettes are well balanced against the realistic story of a soldier. Best of all, it reads aloud like a dream, every now and then offering the reader the chance to take on the voice of the melancholy, storytelling soldier, and the allegories offer much to discuss. (7 and up)

Also of interest:
THE OLD COUNTRY by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook)
Well, thanks to Mordicai Gerstein's Caldecott-winner THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS we knew could draw, but this proves him to be a double-threat! This ambitious, mysterious novel intoned from the half-warm, half-warning tones of a grandmother who has seen much, young Giselle stares too long into the eyes of a fox and finds she has exchanged shape with the beast. Set in an unspecific "Old Country" during a time of war, the girl-fox struggles to survive and to reunite with her family. Will the fox and the perpetrators of this terrible war ever come to justice? Told with special sympathies toward the most vulnerable, this book has a special potency as a parable for peace. Folkloric and mystifying, this is one memorable trip into the woods. (9 and up)

Links are provided for informational use. Don't forget to support your local bookseller.

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