Give a Goat
By Jan Schrock

Give a Goat
Children's book review by P.J. Rooks

Ages 5 - 9

A goat pays for school

Whaddaya mean these kids want to go to school?! What kid in their right mind wouldn't be pleased as punch to have a "get out of school free" card -- for the rest of their life?

Well, actually, most. Most kids would rather go to school than scrape around in the dust all day trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from. Most kids would rather go to school than melt their hours away grinding a bit of corn by hand to make bread. Most kids would rather go to school than haul heavy buckets of fresh water back and forth from the local stream. Most kids would rather go to school... just not so much the kids here (or so they claim, at any rate).

Here in the developed world, we have the phenomenal luxury of taking school for granted and complaining about it, joking about it, counting down to summer vacation, lying about the crushing boredom that always sets in by late July -- you know the drill.

But what does it mean to be able to read and write? To figure a column of numbers? To have access to books? Everything. It means the difference between ignorance and self-sufficiency, tyranny and freedom, poverty and hope. School matters -- but not if you can’t go.

Give a Goat is the story of a class that learns how important one animal can be to a child’s future after they pass a rainy afternoon reading Beatrice’s Goat. In Beatrice’s Goat, a Ugandan family is able to afford to send their daughter to school after they are given the gift of a goat. The goat gives enough milk to both nourish the family and to sell, leaving enough profit for school clothes and books.

Of course, by the end of the story, Mrs. Rowell’s fifth grade class is unanimous in their desire to give a goat too.

After some discussion, the kids embark on a fun learning project. With $15 in start-up capital from their teacher, they launch an enterprise selling healthy snacks to teachers and students. They learn a bit about business, math, marketing and finally, after paying back their original loan, find that their profit of $180 will buy a goat, a flock of chickens and some ducks. Success -- and then some!

Give a Goat is written by Jan West Schrock, the daughter of the original founder of Heifer International (originally Heifers for Relief), Dan West. According to the About the Author blurb in the back of the book, West worked as a relief worker during the Spanish Civil War and, “as he was handing out milk to needy children one day, he realized, ‘These children don’t need a cup. They need a cow.’”

This book touches on the state of the world without being oppressive or preachy about it. Being a hound for social justice books, I’m finding that many of them have the same set of annoying blemishes -- pious, long-winded text, mediocre storytelling, lack of humor and pictures done over in some miasma that I can only describe as “ugly wash” -- a blur of muted colors and fuzzy faces that makes it extremely hard to relate to the story or to hold a child’s attention with it. While these books may attempt to deliver a powerful message, they drive their audience away and well, if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it...

Give a Goat avoids all those pitfalls and focuses on the kids, the project and the happy results. The watercolor illustrations are bright and clear, with a funny little goat on several of the pages who chews on the children’s hair, works on a computer, reads a book, flies an airplane and otherwise contributes to the light-heartedness of the story.

The story outlines a step-by-step process that any kid can pick up and do with his or her own church, scouts or other organization. It tells how to plan the project and gives some ideas for fundraisers, such as car washes or bake sales, but it covers all these things in a very subtle way, weaving the ideas into the story line. Readers never get a sense of “you should do this” or “you should feel guilty for all that you have” but instead hear the very positive spin that “here’s something that you might enjoy doing, just like we did, and it would benefit others as well.”

Give a Goat rises well above the sanctimonious clatter of the bleeding heart sect and empowers kids by giving them something solid that they can do, today, feel good about and have fun with too.

Webmaster's Note: Goat-giving? We've reviewed one more book on the subject! Read Suzanne Holland's review of The Goat Lady.

from Give a Goat, chicken added!

More books examining other cultures.

Read more of P.J.'s reviews.

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