Once A Shepherd by Glenda Millard is a story of how war can can change the entire trajectory of a person’s life. It is spell-binding and abrupt, but still an appropriate and humanizing introduction to the tragedies of war.
The story begins with blissful newly weds who tend sheep and spin wool. Tom and Cherry live a peaceful life in a hilly countryside. The characters’ affection–and, later, pain–in the story is tangible through the beautiful watercolor-based illustrations by Phil Lesnie.
Suddenly, World War I breaks out and skews their story. Cherry stitches her husband’s uniform and prays. The couple bids a heartrending goodbye as the audience discovers this soldier is leaving his future family–his wife and the baby she is carrying. The words of the story make it clear how strong their bond is. Tom leaves for war with dread and shock etched on his face. Tom belongs in a pasture, not in a trench. In an act of heroism, Tom dies while saving the life of an enemy soldier.
Remorseful, the wounded and grateful solider visits Cherry, offering her her late husband’s coat and closure.
The grieving wife crowns her child with forget-me-nots as her sweetheart once did her. Wounds heal; peace returns. This book offers more than just a war story like CNN or FOX broadcast. It offers a story of healing and courage to children who might not get this side of the story otherwise. Millard does a fantastic job of imbuing children with a perspective that not only countries fight wars, but people fight wars. And people can heal from wars.