CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 26 . . . . March 9, 2012
Often the best inspiration for fiction is the truth, and given that, one would expect a little more depth from My Goat Gertrude. Billed as "absolutely true", it is the story of a young girl named Starr whose dad brings home (surprise!) a pet goat to join the family.
Few things are as compelling as a true story. Unfortunately, in this case, while My Goat Gertrude is charming, it lacks the meaningful details that bring substance and character to a story.
The reader is introduced to the cast - a family of five (including the animals) - very early on, yet most of the cast is quickly forgotten. The story revolves around Starr and the events that lead up to her admiration for Gertrude. These events involve a bratty cousin, and a single Wig Wag bar. This is the groundwork for a potentially universal story, but the outcome is predictable, and all possible issues are tied up very nicely in the end. Indeed, the main flaw in this story is simply that nothing goes wrong. The result is that the story is one that is very difficult to identify with, and it holds readers at arm's length.
Contributing to this feeling of distance is the contradictory writing tone. My Goat Gertrude is told in the present, from young Starr's point of view, but in a very nostalgic adult voice. Nostalgia results in an unreliable perspective, and thus can't be trusted.
The concluding joke of the story is that Starr's mother gets both a clothes dryer, and 'father's goat'. This is clearly an in-joke included for adult readers. While it is true that those picture books able to reach many levels of readership are often the best, My Goat Gertrude misses the mark.
The saving grace of this book is illustrator Dayle Dodwell. The illustrations are of high quality production with full colour and what appear to be scans of original art works with hints of pencil lines still visible below the watercolour wash. There is an interesting use of perspective and spreads, and varying subtle shades carry the reader from day to night. While the illustrations have a slightly traditional feel, the illustrator's mark is nevertheless strongly felt.
Nimbus Publishing is known for its publications related to the Atlantic provinces. Indeed, many of their children's picture books are recognizably set in Atlantic Canada. In this case, the connection is that author Starr Dobson resides in Halifax. However, My Goat Gertrude could take place anywhere with a country house. The 'every' place quality means readers are not isolated, but, because the story is lacking in other points of entry for the reader, distinctly regional details would have been welcome in order to provide distinctiveness. My Goat Gertrude is a sweet story, certainly, but is too distant in tone.
Recommended with reservations.
Lara LeMoal is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.