Thursday, August 13, 2009

Colorful Reading Challenge Review: The Silver Donkey

It's been a while since I read a children's book, and I haven't ever consciously read a Young Adult story. This one leads off my newest challenge, Colorful Reading, sponsored by Rebecca over at Lost in Books. I confess I only chose it because I needed to fill the silver color category. I was getting desperate, and it had better reviews than the other silver-titled books I was able to find. Late-night Googling was definitely involved.

The plot here involves two French children who discover a shell-shocked English soldier hiding in the woods near their house. He carries a tiny silver donkey as a good luck charm; whether it has brought him good luck could be debated, given his experiences in the trenches of World War I. When the children discover him, he is blind, cold, and hungry, and wants nothing more than to escape across the Channel and return home to visit his beloved, terminally ill brother.

It was rather nice to read a book with pictures, for a change, and the occasional black and white illustrations are very delicate and atmospheric. I loved the overall story, I loved the characterizations of the French children, and I loved the soothing tone. While the children are helping Monsieur Lieutenant and plotting how to help him continue his journey, he tells them a series of uplifting stories about donkeys, drawn from different times and traditions around the world. It's a classic device and very successfully employed.

The boring adult in me kept saying, "Yeah, but isn't he a deserter? Won't that still be a problem even if he gets home?" The ending is open-ended enough that you could discuss this issue with an older child. Ditto for the question of whether the soldier is telling the truth about his sick brother, or merely lying to encourage the children to help him.

While those issues add some depth to the story, they aren't front and center. The focus here is almost entirely on the children's relationship with the soldier, and that's good enough for younger children. It's also good enough for me.


Coco slipped her hand into Marcelle's. . . . Quietly she said, "What if he's not there?"

"I think he will be there," answered Marcelle, although she, too, was worried that when they reached the hollow in the woods, they would find only leaves and feathers. Morning seemed such a long time ago, and the day had been so uneventful since then: she worried that the soldier was a dream that she and Coco had somehow shared. How disappointed she would be, if he turned out only a dream.

Coco knew she would cry if they found the hollow deserted, the silver donkey never to be seen again.


  1. I can't say as I've read a YA book since I was a YA myself. Unless The Wind in the Willows counts, but that's more of a children's book.

    Anyway -- I understand your difficulty finding a "silver" book for the challenge. I thought of Hans Brinker, but I decided to only read books I currently own. So I am reading The Silver Palate Cookbook. A crossover with the Spice of Life Challenge.

  2. I do love some young adult books....some are so very good. This sounds like a winner.

  3. this book sounds interesting. What age group of children would you recommend this for? middle school or elementary?

  4. It's interesting the books we find when we just need to fill a category for a challenge. Sometimes they aren't worth it and sometimes it is a wonderful vacay from our usual reading fare. Good review. I will add it now to the list! Thank you so much for participating!

  5. It was definitely a challenge to find a good "silver" book. And fun to get pushed in a new direction.

    Mardel, I think the range on this book is about ages 10-13. The reading scale puts it at around 6th grade. So I guess it is right in the middle of elementary/middle school.


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