One bright spring morning in the woods of France, a soldier, blinded by the war, is found by a little girl named Coco, and her older sister Marcelle. In return for their kindness, the soldier tells the sisters stories connected to the keepsake he carries in his pocket: a perfect, tiny silver donkey.
- Winner 2005 CBC Book of the Year for Young Readers
- Winner 2005 Courier Mail Book of the Year Prize for Writing for Young Adults
- Winner 2007 COOL Award for Fiction for Years 7–9
- Winner 2010 Anderson Award (Italy) for Best Book for Readers 9–12
- Shortlisted 2005 NSW Premier’s Awards for the Patricia Wrightson Award
- Shortlisted 2007 Kids Own Australian Literature Award (KOALA) for Fiction for Years 7–9
The Silver Donkey was first published in 2004, 90 years after the outbreak of World War I. This brutal and bloody war holds an important place in the heart of Australia’s culture and identity, serving to shape and define Australia and Australians as both a nation and a people in their own right. The bravery, heroism, mateship and larrikinism of Australians during WWI have become embedded and enshrined in our culture as hallmarks of the Australian spirit.The Silver Donkey deals with these significant themes through a series of four fables, centred on donkeys, woven together by the narrative of a blind soldier recounting his experiences on the front who has deserted the army in order to get home to see his sick brother.
The use of fables to transmit the novel’s themes of bravery, suffering, heroism, humility and humanity is a clever device which serves as a reminder of the role of traditional stories in our society. These stories transcend the particular time and place in which the novel is set, spanning over 2000 years of global human history from the birth of Jesus to the role of Simpson’s donkey at Gallipoli, and reminding the reader of their continuing relevance. Encircling these fables is the story of Lieutenant Shepard, a complex character who represents the experience of ‘the solider’ who is dealing with the aftermath of war and the way it has physically and mentally affected him. As part of a rich literary genre which addresses the themes and complexities of WWI in a manner accessible by children and young adults, the novel joins texts such as Greenwood’s Simpson and His Donkey, Jorgensen’s In Flanders Fields, French’s The Donkey Who Carried the Wounded, Morpurgo’s War Horse and Hill’s Solider Boy.
Historical context when the title was published
The story was first published in 2004. Perhaps one of the reasons for its focus on the themes of war and humanity is due to Australia’s participation in the combined international force which had invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. 2004 was also the 90th anniversary of the start of World War I and was commemorated as part of the national ANZAC Day celebrations on 25th April. Social attitudes towards war had shifted and changed between the outbreak of WWI and its 90th anniversary, and these are represented by the way in which the author presents both the soldier and his descriptions of WWI.
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