Simpson and his Donkey is a very child friendly story about a topic that is not very friendly at all: war.
Mark Greenwood writes his version of a precious story passed on through generations about a young war hero who earned himself the utmost respect amongst his fellow soldiers and countrymen.
Greenwood takes us back to Jack’s (John Simpson Kirkpatrick) childhood where he grew up in South Shields, England. He seemed a busy boy always working hard for a penny and dreaming of adventure. Jack worked with donkeys from when he was a child. He and his friend Billy would lead holiday makers on a seaside trail for pocket money.
Jack finally encountered adventure when he set sail to Australia. He worked hard on cattle stations, coalmines and steam ships until he enlisted in the army to do duty for his country.
He trained as a stretcher-bearer and was part of the group of soldiers that landed in Gallipoli. It was a fateful arrival for these soldiers. Jack worked tirelessly to rescue many injured soldiers from the battlefields during the following weeks, with the help of a stray donkey he named Duffy. Together, they were a formidable force showing bravery and determination. Jack was eventually gunned down by a sniper. His fellow soldiers risked their own lives to ensure he received a respectful burial.
The story ends with the words Lest We Forget. We apply these words to any fallen soldier, but in this case we remember one who selflessly saved over 300 injured soldiers so that they could return home to their families, including his childhood friend Billy who he unknowingly saved also.
The illustrations are vibrant and bold. The sky is an element to look out for. Frane Lessac uses a range of colours to depict the sky: Clear blue, eerie purple, ominous orange, fateful yellow and blood red. Each colour a clear symbol of the emotions and events occurring on the page. The illustrations are detailed and busy. Lessac shows fear, concern and sadness on the faces of the soldiers. The illustrations show a real picture of war without being frightening for a child to look at.
This picture book story is based on true people and events. The book ends with a double page spread including facts and a map about John Simpson Kirkpatrick, the donkeys, soldier mascots, the Turks and Anzac Cove. These pages are a seed for any burgeoning historian.
Simpson and His Donkey was awarded the Eve Pownall Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council of Australia in 2009. It was a finalist for the 2010 CJ Korean Picture Book Awards and was shortlisted in the 2008 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards.
A legendary story to share with your children on Anzac Day.
You may be interested in other Anzac stories.
Author and Illustrator: Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac
Publisher: Walker Books Australia, March 2008
Review copy kindly supplied by Walker Books Australia