Sonya Hartnett’s The Silver Donkey – applications in your classroom or library

During the First World War, sisters Marcelle and Coco, two French children, find a young English soldier in the woods. Lieutenant Shepard is temporarily blind and has walked away from a war he found too terrible to bear. The sisters hide, feed and support him. He longs to cross the Channel and return home to his dying younger brother, John, but Marcelle, the older of the two girls realises that such an escapade is beyond the girls’ ability to organise and execute.

Their thirteen-year-old brother Pascal is invited to join in the secret, and he hatches a plan to return the soldier to England. During the few days that they hide the soldier, Lieutenant Shepard tells them four stories, each about a donkey. His good luck charm, given to him by his brother to keep him safe, is a charming silver donkey, and this object inspires the beautiful and poetic stories: the Bethlehem story, Simpson and his donkey, a parable set in India, and the story of the silver donkey’s origin in his life.

There is much to explore in this finely crafted novel and the language is so rich and evocative that it begs to be read aloud. Reading aloud to a group or a class would allow for the leisurely exploration of some large ideas, and predictions about how the story might proceed and be resolved.

The following ideas are suggestions for stimulating response, but are not intended to be prescriptive. Rather they provide shooting off points for exploration. Teaching notes for The Silver Donkey, written by Dr. Pam Macintyre, can be found here.

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