Once a Shepherd

Glenda Millard, illustrated by Phil Lesnie

Once there sang 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.

Once a Shepherd is the story of Tom Shepherd – of every Tom Shepherd and Cherry that lived and died through the years of Great War. You can tell straightaway that the author is setting up the story for a great upheaval, and as you turn the pages, your heart starts to sink and your stomach drops because you realize that things are about to change from which idyllic time and landscape Tom and Cherry start. And the exact moment that it happens is in such stark contrast to the page before that it’s almost a bit of a shock, before you cotton onto what exactly is about to happen. The tone changes correspondingly:

He wept ten thousand footsteps while a million raindrops fell.

Once he marched right into hell.

Falling from paradise right down into hell, Tom Shepherd never loses the hand-stitched coat his Cherry made for him, and in a gesture that brings the story full-circle, Cherry and her newborn son in turn inherit the coat. Cherry uses the fabric of the coat to make their son a plush lamb toy, which in part stands for the kindness Tom extends on the battlefield towards his enemy, but also as a symbol of innocence and purity more generally (as Tom did, also, when he helped the enemy soldier and saved his life).

Complement this beautiful, heartbreaking picture book with Why? by Nikolai Popov and Terrible Things by Eve Bunting.