Once A Shepherd
Walker Books, 2014
hbk., 32pp., RRP $A27.95
This is a heart-warming story of a young man, the love of his life and their hopes and dreams when once their world was all at peace. And then comes the war, and clad in a warm coat made from wool spun by his wife from the sheep he tends, he kisses his unborn child and marches off to do his duty. But sadly, he does not survive, losing his life as he kneels to help an enemy, a stranger. However, this is one who feels he has a debt to repay and after the war he does so bringing the story full circle and on to new things as once there is peace again.
Using the softest of palettes to echo the mood of this story, this picture book is a blend of all that is wonderful with that format. Even the covers and endpapers feature the weave of the coat adding to its importance to the story. The sparse text, its rhyme and its emotions have been beautifully portrayed by newcomer Phil Lesnie
While reviews from other sources in other countries question the need for such a story for such young readers, Millard has contributed another addition to the library of stories of how our nation was shaped, its spirit born and its heroes revered, particularly as we commemorate the centenary of ANZAC Day. While war itself is brutal, this is a story that shows the backstory of Tom, bringing the everydayness of those who answered the call into sharp focus, and even moreso as the young enemy soldier shows his compassion by returning the coat. By giving the characters names we feel a connection to them and even that stranger becomes more “alive” as we imagine his determination and journey to return the coat to Cherry While not shying away from what happened to Tom, it shows that every one was a father, a son, a brother, a husband…
A book that offers more with every reading.