Review Blog

Nov 06 2014

Once a shepherd by Glenda Millard

cover image

Ill. by Phil Lesnie. Walker Books, 2014. ISBN 9781921720628
(Age: 7+) Recommended. War, Kindness, Loss. The shepherd tends his flock with love and care, and marries Cherry, his childhood sweat heart. When he is called to war, she makes him a greatcoat to keep him safe, sewn together with love. But it cannot keep him safe and an enemy soldier stays with him as he dies, taking his greatcoat from him to return it to his wife.
The bare bones of the story ring of the futility of war, of the conflict that makes people takes sides, even though they are the same beneath the uniforms. Love and kindness will prevail despite what nations do to each other. It is a salutary message in these times of hatred between groups within our societies and the story offers hope to the young children who read it.
The circle of life, shown through the making and the return of the greatcoat and its making and then remaking as a child's toy, reiterates the theme that life endures, no matter what is thrown up against it. Again, a positive idea for children to absorb.
Millard's verse, perfectly distills these ideas into a seamless narrative, evoking sympathy for the soldier called away from his family to war, to the family left at home, then the soldier from the opposing forces returning to console the grieving mother and her child.
The endpapers with their woollen cloth, speaks volumes of the amount of material needed to clothe soldiers at war, and the needle and thread in the corner too speaks of the ties that bind us. The soft watercolour illustrations are evocative of the family and its life and the life taken away.
Fran Knight

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