The Small War of Sergeant Donkey

Book cover: 'The Small War of Sergeant Donkey'
Maureen Daly
Bethlehem Books
Number of pages: 
87 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Chico Felippo is a young boy living in a small village in Southern Italy. It is 1944 and most of the war has moved north, but the American Army has a special "Remount Depot" nearby where donkeys are trained to assist the soldiers in the difficult mountain fighting. Chico loves these animals and becomes friends with many of the Americans as well as one particularly beloved animal, "Sergeant Donkey". The entire town suffers from a shortage of food because all of the donkeys which worked the fields had been seized by the Germans earlier in the war. The monks in the monastery on the mountainside are especially in need of provisions and Chico has the regular task of collecting donations from the townspeople and bringing them up to the monastery. Because he was so familiar with the ways through the forest and up the mountain, he was even able to accomplish these journeys earlier in the war while the Germans were encamped on the mountain and heavy fighting was going on.

One day an American Serviceman is injured by a small troup of German soldiers and stranded on the mountain. Chico decides he wants to help, but the dangers are great. It wouldn't be fair to spoil the details of the adventure that follows, but I'll just say that the whole story is a wonderful one for children in many ways. American children tend to study very little of Italy during World War II. The historical details are fascinating here and especially appropriate as seen through the eyes of a child who has experienced war first hand. The simple details of the struggles of family life in Italy and the companionship they find with the homesick American soldiers are very nice. The simple, honest virtues of courage and friendship are embodied by the characters in the story. Finally, some of the Christmas and other traditions of Catholic Italy are woven into the story as well.

The story is suitable for a family read-aloud and could be read independently by early to mid-gradeschoolers. Sure to become a family favorite. Along with Twenty and Ten and The Winged Watchman, this would make an excellent first-glimpse at World War II - one of the most significant and influential events of our recent history.

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