02 August 2009

Simpson and His Donkey

by Mark Greenwood. Illustrated by Frané Lessac.

Walker Books. Australian, History, Children's Non-Fiction. Hardcover RRP $27.95.

Guest Reviewer Jo Burnell

This simplified version of Jack Simpson’s life is easily understood by children from Middle Primary School upwards. The reader travels with Jack from England through Australia to Egypt, and finally to the shores of Gallipoli.

Frané Lessac deepens this simple story line with period scenes of England’s summer shores and winter streets, Egypt’s military training camps and the fateful journey by boat to Gallipoli. Strong colours convey conditions in each environment, from the grey of an English Winter to the scorching heat of the Egyptian desert. Blood red waters on the shores of Gallipoli speak of countless lives lost.

Amidst these vibrant pages lies the story of an ordinary man who just wanted to go home. Joining the military took Jack to the killing fields of Gallipoli instead of his hometown in England. Jack saved many lives while losing his own and has touched hearts world-wide over the decades. A poignant circle of life is complete when Jack rescues an old friend from Tyne Dock while doing his rounds in Shrapnel Valley.

The depth to which Jack Simpson’s courage impressed fellow workers is demonstrated by the fact that Indian Gunners risked their lives to pick flowers to place on his grave.

Simpson and His Donkey is meticulously researched, yet masterfully translated into an easy read for children, without ‘dumbing-down’ the facts. This hero could have been someone’s Grandad (if he had lived long enough to marry). Such portrayals of real people, is what has been lacking in our libraries. Let’s hope this is the first of many such treasures.


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