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Jo-Jo The Melon Donkey

Jo-Jo The Melon Donkey

  • Author: Pattertravelers
  • Date Posted: Apr 28, 2015
  • Category:
  • Address: St. Mark's Basillica

“Jo-Jo was a donkey.  His father had been a donkey before him, and his mother as well. And so, of course, Jo-Jo had to be a donkey whether he liked it or not.” So starts the tale of the rather downtrodden Jo-Jo the Melon Donkey written by Michael Morpurgo and illustrated by Tony Kerins.   Jo-Jo’s luck starts to change when his owner decides to take him to sell melons in St. Mark’s Square, the principal piazza in Venice, with St. Mark’s Bascilica and the campanile on one end and the Doge’s palace and the Procuratie Vecchie and Procuratie Nuove along the other sides. The Doge’s palace as well as St. Mark’s Basilica are both open to the public.

When they reach the square, Jo-Jo’s master stops under the four golden horses adorning St. Mark’s Basilica and tells Jo-Jo to sing out and sell their wares.  Initially the aristocrats in St. Mark’s square have no time for Jo-Jo and laugh at the contrast between him and the golden horses above, that is until the Doge’s daughter runs out of the palace, lonely, bored, and eager to buy a melon.  Suddenly, Jo-Jo is sold out as everyone strives to imitate the princess.  Every day that summer, Jo-Jo comes to St. Mark’s square loaded with melons and every day the Doge’s daughter comes out of the palace for her melon and a chat with Jo-Jo.

One day, the Doge announces a competition.  He is going to purchase the finest horse in the city for his daughter’s birthday.  The horses are brought into the square and lined up for viewing, each one finer than the next, but which one does the Doge’s daughter choose?  Jo-Jo!  Her father is appalled, but she is insistent, stating that if she can’t have Jo-Jo she doesn’t want anything.  While we haven’t had this argument over a horse, it certainly sounded familiar! As she is sent to her room, she whispers to Jo-Jo to meet her that night so they can run away together.

That night, Jo-Jo bites through his restraining rope and heads for the palace.  As he runs past the four golden horses, he hears voices.  At first he can’t figure out who is talking, then he realizes it is the four golden horses.  The four golden horses urge him to warn the city that the sea is coming in.  Jo-Jo runs over to the water’s edge and looks out over the lagoon.  Then he starts braying and braying, sounding the warning.  The Doge’s daughter climbs out her window urging him to be quiet, but quickly understands the danger and they run through Venice waking the town and saving everyone from disaster as the streets flood and the campanile comes crashing down.  Needless to say, after saving everyone there was no longer any talk of Jo-Jo not being an appropriate companion for the Doge’s daughter.

Michael Morpurgo does a good job of describing the sights and sounds of Venice and the illustration of the view of Venice from the hilltop during the storm really manages to capture the feel of the city.  Donkeys may no longer be used to transport melons, but there still aren’t any cars, giving Venice a very timeless feel and making the descriptions in the book still relevant.  My son was fascinated by the four golden horses in the story and the idea that the city has a protector.  While replicas of the horses have had to be mounted on the facade of St. Mark’s Basilica due to pollution damage, the original horses are still on display just inside and your child too can listen for any secrets they may have to share.

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