ROLY the Anzac Donkey, by Glyn Harper illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Puffin)
If you've read 'Simpson and his Donkey' you'll know about an Australian soldier's work rescuing the wounded with the aid of his donkey in Gallipoli. It's a gorgeous tale and now considered a classic. There have been several versions - the latest being Mark Greenwood's book published by Walker Books in 2009. Over the years I had heard that New Zealand stretcher bearers used donkeys too. Military Historian Glyn Harper has uncovered one of those stories and we now have a true New Zealand story about a soldier and his donkey.
Glyn tells the story in Roly, the donkey's voice. On the opening page we're introduced to Roly and he tells us he hasn't always worked on a farm (shown in the background illustrations), he once worked in Gallipoli helping rescue soldiers who had been hurt in battle. Glyn most likely started the story this way to reassure young children - the donkey makes it. This will help sensitive children not feel anxious for the donkey while they're listening to the story being read to them. It's a gentle opening for the story. It's needed because the following pages jump into a hard time for the donkey.
Through words and pictures we find out that Roly grew up on a Greek farm until English soldiers captured and loaded him onto a ship destined for Gallipoli. Unfortunately for Roly his first driver was cruel. He made Rory work long hours carrying heavy loads, gave him little food and water, and beat him. One day Roly escaped but returns when he's hungry and misses the other donkeys. On his journey back he meets a man who changes his life for the better.
Glyn does not try to romanticise Rory's work in Gallipoli. He carries soldiers whose blood sometimes trickles down his back, and they have to run for it when there is fire charging back and forth. It's important children grow up realising war is not one big adventure and shooting guns is fun. But juxtaposed with this realistic story are the warm illustrations that show the love between animal and human. If you've owned a dog you'd recognise the look that Rory shows for Richard - it's utter adoration, and Jenny Cooper has captured it so expertly.
Rory and Richard's heart warming tale, Glyn's excellent storytelling abilities, and Jenny's stunning illustrations make this a winner for children (and adults). It's a story that won't just come out during ANZAC celebrations, it will be read all year round. Highly recommended for home, school and public libraries.
ISBN: 9780143506638 RRP $19.99
Other Glyn Harper ANZAC stories illustrated by Jenny Cooper you will also want to read are:
Le Quesnoy: The Story of the Town New Zealand Saved (Puffin)
Jim's Letters (Puffin)
Other ANZAC stories:
The ANZAC Puppy by Peter Millett, illustrated by Trish Bowles (Scholastic)
The Red Poppy by David Hill, illustrated by Fifi Colston (Scholastic)
Caesar the ANZAC Dog by Patricia Stroud, illustrated by Bruce Potter (Scholastic)
ANZAC Day - The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry (New Holland)
Best Mates by Philippa Werry, illustrated by Bob Kerr (New Holland)
The Last ANZAC by Gordon Winch, illustrated by Harriet Bailey
Meet the ANZACs by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Max Berry (Random House)
Meet Werry Dunlop by Claire Saxby, illustrated by Jeremy Lord (Random House)