Sunday, April 13, 2014

Book Review: The Galloping Goat and Other Stories by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1965)

The Galloping Goat and Other Stories is yet another collection of short fiction written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor in the 1960s. It was published between Grasshoppers in the Soup and Knee-Deep in Ice Cream, but it could not be more different in tone or subject matter from either of those books. While both of those are collections of humorous vignettes about teen life, The Galloping Goat is a series of heartwarming, principled short stories about young children living in different places all around the world.
  • "The Galloping Goat" is set in Greece, and tells the story of Nicos, who attempts to deliver a mischievous goat to his lonely grandmother.
  • In "Hala and the Gander," a young polish girl’s efforts to earn money are thwarted by a gander that won’t let her work in peace. 
  • "What the Stars Said for Asoka" reveals the bravery of a young boy in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) who fears camping but manages to fend off a bear in an unexpected way. 
  • "Maria of the Mountains" explores a Colombian girl’s desire to see the world and become educated and demonstrates how this wish brings her to an important decision that will improve her community. 
  • In "Kimo and the Keys," a Hawaiian boy must choose between helping himself to a prize and helping a man who has dropped his keys into the ocean.
  • In "The Silver Trinket", set in India, Sita loses her sister’s wedding jewelry and must work hard to replace it. 
  • In "The Church the Children Built," a group of Mexican children band together to build a church in order to keep their beloved priest with them even during the rainy season. 
  • "The Dragonfly" tells of a Japanese boy who sacrifices his own chances of winning an insect contest in order to comfort his sister whose beautiful insect flies away. 
  • In "The Donkey and the Kettle," two young gypsy boys in Spain make a trade that unexpectedly angers their families.
Each story bears a positive message and a character-building theme, while also providing the reader with insight into a foreign culture.

I loved this book in the same way that I loved Bo at Ballard Creek. So often books about other times and cultures focus on the hardships of those societies and on the major dramas and difficulties that shape their worldviews and customs. This book takes a different approach, giving us simple insights into the day-to-day lives of average kids who happen to live in places very different from the United States. Each character is easy to relate to, because he or she faces a basic conflict that is instantly recognizable, even if the reader has never set foot on foreign soil. Each character, though different from the average American child in dress, or looks, or language, is fully realized and so sympathetic that the reader can’t help but step into their shoes and look at things from their perspective. The characters are also wonderful role models. Each one looks for ways to make his or her world a better place and makes appropriate sacrifices for the good of family, friends, and sometimes even strangers.

Despite the age of this book - and the fact that some of the stories date back as far as 1959 - there is very little offensive, stereotypical, or inaccurate content in it. I’m actually disappointed that it isn’t still in print, and that I didn’t know of its existence back during the One World, Many Stories summer reading program, as I think the stories would make perfect read-alouds for elementary classes and perfect preliminary explorations of other cultures for young readers. I wouldn’t even really consider the writing style to be outdated. With different artwork, this book could easily pass for a much newer title, and I think it would have no problem at all finding an interested audience.

The Galloping Goat and Other Stories was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s first book for children, and I think it perfectly predicts her later success as a Newbery Medal winner and prolific author of books for young readers at all levels. These stories are well-plotted, with strongly well-developed characters and messages that teach without preaching. Some interested me more than others, but I can see how each one would be satisfying for the right child at the right time. After reading this book, I’m anxious to read more of Naylor’s older work, as well as some of her newer things - I suspect I have been underestimating her talents, and I’d like to become more familiar with her middle grade work.

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