Once a Shepherd

illus. by Phil Lesnie. 32p. Candlewick. 2014. RTE $16.99. ISBN 9780763674588. LC 2013957278.
Gr 3 Up—"Once there was a carefree shepherd in a field of emerald green. He lullabied his cloud white lambs and gentlied off their fleece. Once Tom's world was all at peace." So begins this lyrical tale of young Tom Shepherd and his bride. From the start, Millard conveys a sense of foreboding that their idyllic world will not last. Tom must leave his pregnant wife and head off to fight in what appears (from the uniforms) to be World War I. "He wept ten thousand footsteps while a million raindrops fell. Once he marched right into hell." Tom dies when he kneels to help an enemy, and that man later seeks out Tom's wife to tell her of his heroism. The book ends with Tom's wife having fashioned a toy for her son from his father's greatcoat—and again the world is at peace. This story has the potential to be maudlin, but the skillfull writing and carefully constructed watercolors richly transform it. Even the scenes of war have a gentleness about them, as one wounded soldier assists another. Perhaps not a book to be placed in the general picture book collection, any more than Patricia Polacco's Pink and Say (Philomel, 1994) is kindergarten fodder, it is one worthy of purchase where stories of war and moving on are needed. Best used in situations where follow-up discussion is a possibility.—Grace Oliff, Ann Blanche Smith School, Hillsdale, NJ
At the start of this Australia-set story, shepherd Tom and his new wife, Cherry, are happy. Then Tom is sent to fight in WWI and killed. A stranger (presumably "the enemy") returns Tom's coat, which Cherry had made with wool from Tom's sheep; now she uses the material to make a toy lamb for Tom's baby. The gentle watercolors soften this bittersweet, somewhat sophisticated rhyming story.

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