Mikis and the Donkey, by Bibi Dumon Tak, illustrated by Philip Hopman, translated by Laura Watkinson
published in The Netherlands, 2011
English edition published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014
Mikis is a little boy living in a peaceful, mountain village on the sunny island of Corfu.
It is a small village. “Breath in and out ten times and you’re across it.” That small.
One day his grandfather surprises him by buying a donkey. Mikis falls utterly in love with that donkey from the moment he strokes her long, soft ears:
“It was six feet from the bottom of the ears to their very tip…and then six feet all the way back down again. Well, that’s what it felt like. The donkey’s ears were so long that there seemed to be no end to them!“
Naming the donkey is left up to Mikis. In a sweet, earnest scene, Mikis explains that he is about to list off many names and that the donkey must blink when she hears one she likes. Mikis thinks of many lovely girls’ names — Zenovia… Thessaloniki… Pandora — but the donkey chooses the strangest name of the bunch: Tsaki.
Miki’s grandparents think that is a foolish name for a donkey, but after all, the naming was left up to Mikis.
Although Mikis loves his grandparents dearly, there’s a bone of contention between him and Grandfather, who calls Tsaki his “little tractor.” Grandfather bought Tsaki to haul firewood from the mountain, but Mikis cringes at the heavy loads. He chides his grandfather, and cajoles him to treat Tsaki more gently. But grandfather is an old, crusty guy who can’t see the harm in it.
Time proves Mikis right, though, and when Tsaki is injured, the village doctor lays down the law for grandfather.
This gives Mikis the leisure to take Tsaki for pleasant strolls on the mountain paths, which leads to several new friendships — both for Mikis and for Tsaki.
This charming, quiet story comes to us from The Netherlands. Author Bibi Dumon Tak stayed on Corfu for two weeks and visited a donkey sanctuary there where she met many of these gentle creatures, including one named Tsaki.
It’s a story with an unforgettable cast of characters — tenderhearted Mikis; Miss Chrysi — his teacher; dear, blustering, Grandpa; and of course, Tsaki. There’s an innocence and simplicity to the village life that mellows the story wonderfully, with marvelous glints of humor sparkling through. A strong thread of the proper care of creatures winds through the story, and there’s even a spritz of romance.
Philip Hopman’s illustrations are beautiful, sophisticated pencil sketches of houses rambling up hillsides, boats along beaches, dusky olive trees, long-eared donkeys, and the rural people populating the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Somehow, I felt a connection between it and Meindert deJong’s work — that childcentric, ambling, tenderness in his novels is here as well.
It would make a superb read-aloud for children ages 5 and older, or a short chapter book for readers at about a 3rd grade level who don’t demand ray guns and superheroes.