Review Blog

Mar 11 2011

Simpson's Donkey: A wartime journey to Gallipoli and beyond by Peter Stanley

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Pier 9. ISBN 9781741968118. pbk, RRP $A14.99.
(Year 2+) The story of Simpson and his donkey at Gallipoli is one that all Australian children grow up with, but how did the donkeys get to Gallipoli in the first place? This story, by Peter Stanley, offers some answers. It follows the life of Sevilen, a donkey born on the island of Lemnos, who, through the actions of a variety of masters, including Simpson, has a remarkable journey through the eastern Mediterranean region during the First World War. Told as though it is his autobiography, Sevilen's story gives us a unique insight into the theatres of war at that time as he encounters Australians, New Zealanders, Greeks, Turks, Britons, Arabs and Indians.
The author has had a long association with the Australian War Memorial as the Principal Historian and is now the Director of the Centre for Historical research at the National Museum of Australia, so his credentials as an historian are impeccable and his ability as a storyteller, engaging. It is book of World War I that will capture the imagination and empathy of middle to upper primary students in a way that seldom happens.  It would be a perfect read-aloud as schools focus on the annual commemoration of ANZAC Day as well as offering yet another example of how man is dependent on animals in so many ways.
At a time when I am supposed to be reading university texts, I couldn't put this one down. I kept thinking of the ways that I could use it if I were still in the classroom, and wishing that I was!
Barbara Braxton

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