Jane Bregoli's The Goat Lady
Children's book review by Suzanne Holland
The Goat Lady offers something for everybody! Teachers will love the straightforward narrative and the references to Heifer Foundation, which opens the door to social studies extensions. Parents will appreciate the authentic artwork that fills the pages, and note that they presently hang in a museum.
And the kids? Children of all ages will warm to this realistic and gentle story of an old woman and her goats.
The book begins brilliantly, in my opinion. As so many children’s stories do, it opens with a description of a dilapidated old house that sticks out like a sore thumb among its well-manicured neighbors.
Mysterious things are going on in this house. Goats wander the yard at all hours, geese and roosters annoy the neighbors, unknown cars and vans come and go, and most eerie of all, no living person is ever seen!
Do you feel set up with a plot? The author has cleverly captured the children’s attention in a way that a more prosaic version never would. They are already imagining a wicked witch who lives there.
Not to disappoint, one cold day an old lady appears. She is tall and most shabbily dressed. “Her coat was held closed with a piece of twine to make up for missing buttons”. That description captivated me!
We hold our breath, and….she’s nice! The Goat Lady's face is plump and rosy like she could be married to a certain Yuletide gentleman.
The story is told in the first person, as it is the true telling of Noelie Houle - The Goat Lady - and her impact on the author’s hometown. We meet the various goats that are Noelie’s “children”; Anna, Elaine, Vincent and kin. As the story unfolds we follow along as Jane Bregoli learns to care for the goats. She milks them, feeds them and learns the secrets of their personalities. Goats are clean animals and don’t much care for cold weather (my kind of animal!).
Baby goats are born, which is always a huge hit with children. The pictures are alternately soft and dreamy, or vividly realistic. There is one portrait of Noelie facing a goat that is reminiscent of Whistler. Bregoli and her mother are both artists so perhaps this is a combination of the two works.
Noelie is a source of stories from another age. I couldn’t help but recall all the wonderful stories my own grandmother told me and this could be a good point for parents to stop and interject some family history of their own.
At last, the secret behind all the goats is revealed. I won’t spoil the background, but it turns out that some of the goats are given away to those in poor countries through the Heifer Foundation. One of the aspects of the book that I appreciate is that this altruistic attitude is not hammered over our heads. Giving is part of Noelie’s nature and it is simply and matter of factly acknowledged.
Bregoli asks her mother to paint Noelie’s portrait, and the results are far from expected. There is a snowball effect and Noelie becomes a star. Despite her fame, she continued to live out her time on the farm caring for her “kids” (yes, that is a pun!).
The book ends with Bregoli stating that she learned to look beyond appearances and discovered a woman of “kindness and courage.”
I loved this simple and beautiful book. The Goat Lady is so carefully crafted and is a tender acknowledgement of the simple ways one person’s life touches another.
Webmaster's note: Goats? Hunger? Charity? The Heifer Foundation? Sounds kind of familiar! Also read P.J. Rooks' review of Give a Goat.
Read more of Suzanne's reviews.
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