This book tells the story of the passion and resurrection from the point of view of the donkey that carried Christ on his back. "The little donkey had never been ridden before, but Jesus spoke gently to him, and soon he stopped being afraid." The donkey (and an angel companion who is never mentioned in the text but is always present in the scenes) follows along after the entrance into Jerusalem and witnesses the primary events of the Gospel narratives including the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Ascension.
Beautiful soft watercolor illustrations with gold highlights on each page bring the story to life. The language strikes a nice balance being neither overly simple nor overly flowery.
Most pleasing to me, the Eucharistic language of the Last Supper is maintained:
"Take and eat this," said Jesus, holding the bread. "It is my body." And the donkey watched as Jesus lifted up a cup of wine. "Take and drink this,"Jesus said. "It is my blood."
The bloody details of the passion are gently minimized so this book is easily read to even the youngest toddlers. For example, there are no details about the scourging just the mockery of the soldiers:
So the soldiers took Jesus away. They put a crown of thorns on his head and made fun of him. 'Hail the King of the Jews!' they said. They gave him a huge cross of wood and forced him to carry it.
A this point the donkey wishes he could help Jesus carry the cross and Simon of Cyrene does help Jesus. I like the way the donkey becomes a stand-in for the child and how this aside opens up a space to discuss with the child how we can help Jesus carry his cross. And the crucifixion and death are all covered in a simple statement: "They crucified him between two thieves." The narrative moves directly from that to Joseph requesting the body from Pilate. This allows the adult reader to help a sensitive child navigate the more difficult aspects of the passion narrative.
The donkey witnesses the resurrection and the ascension and then returns home:
And the donkey stayed there the rest of his life, remembering the kind and good man he had carried on his back to Jerusalem.
I'm not thrilled with reducing Jesus to a "kind and good man" in the final sentence. There are plenty of stories and pious legends about animals recognizing the divinity of Christ and I'd have preferred the story take that tack. But it isn't a terrible distortion of Christ. At least the book covers all the essentials of the story.
This is a good introduction to Easter and works well with my three-year old's level of understanding and her attention span. It will appeal to older children as well.