Brief Description: Two donkeys are conscripted by Spanish colonists to carry gold to the king’s ships. They escape and return to their poor village – with a sweet surprise!
Date Range: 1770s
Original Publication: 1972
Suitable for Grades: K-3rd
Target Audience: Picture Book
In a small village high up in the Mexican mountains a poor father of nine children reluctantly sells the family’s two beloved pet donkeys to a local silver mining operation. The donkeys are put to work joining hundreds of other donkeys hauling the King’s silver down the long difficult route to the seaport. After their third round trip, the poor donkeys are worn down, thin and sore. The cruel trainmaster decides to use them for one last journey, a one-way trip, after which they are destined for a mean death. Fate would intervene though. A legendary group of bandits ambushes the donkey train, scattering the two beasts. Our two donkeys eventually make their way back to the mountain village to be reunited with the dear children. And their saddlebags are full!
If you can get your hands on this book, I recommend you read this feel-good story to your young audience. In my first edition 1972 version the font is smaller than what you find in today’s readers, yet the story line is quite simple. The text is straightforward in typical O’Dell fashion, and the illustrations by Lynd Ward deftly show the period costume, the plight of the poor villagers, and the cruel faces of the mine overseers. The story offers a good starting point for discussion on the morality of keeping the “gift” the donkeys bring to the poor village, and the social dynamics of the Spanish colonial rule of Mexico.