Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Goat Lady

On the weekend, I did a reading in Vancouver for the West Coast Families Conference. My publisher had a booth, and Jeff the sales rep, kindly let me take away a few books which I thought looked interesting. One of them was a picture book by Jane Bregoli , whom I had never heard of. The cover of The Goat Lady intrigued me though, so I wanted to sit down with it. I was rewarded with one of those heart-warming stories about a couple of kids who see beyond mismatched clothes into the heart of an old woman.

When two children move into their new home, they can't help but notice an old, run down farm in a neighbourhood of new, freshly painted houses and mowed lawns. The farm house on the corner of Lucy Little Road stands out. Not only is the paint on the house peeling and the door hanging crookly on it's hinges, but there are goats in the front yard, and even on the porch.

A truck load of complaints about the farm and its eccentric owner greet the new family, but the children are curious. Finally, they get a chance to meet Noelie, whose warm smile, rosy cheeks and twinking eyes outshine her odd clothing and accent . Once they see how lovingly the Goat Lady treats her goats, they become fast friends and help her with her chores. The children ask their mother to paint a portrait of Noelie and her goats, and one portrait becomes two, and then three, until there are enough paintings for an exhibiton at the town hall.

The power of art and the intuitive ability of two children to see beyond a fence in need of mending and a coat held together with twine is where this book shines. Noelie's goodness seeps through every painting for her community and for us to see. Help replaces judgement. Fences get mended both literally and figurately.

An afterward in the book explains that Goat Lady is based on a real woman, Noelie Lemire Houle, a French Canadian woman who left her family farm in 1919 for a factory job in the U.S. After marrying, she settled with her husband on a small family farm where she raised goats.

Noelie is the kind of woman you hope your children will meet and learn from. Now they can, through The Goat Lady by Jane Bregoli.

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