Title: A Goatboy Never Cries by Hazel D. Campbell.
Kingston; LMH Publishing Limited, 2009. 59 pages
Reviewed by: Mary Hanna (originally featured in the Jamaica Observer)
The loss of a pet for whatever reason is one of the heartbreaks of childhood. Hazel D. Campbell has centred this experience in her satisfying tale, A Goatboy Never Cries. It is beautifully illustrated by Courtney Lloyd Robinson who captures the vital moments of the narrative in colourful and interesting images throughout the text. This is a story to touch the hearts of children and adults alike and it is organized to please both the beginner reader and the parent who finds time to read to children.
The family unit is clearly established in this story. Daddy and Mama move to the foothills of St. Andrew from Kingston and set about ordering their new life with the help of all the children: Jasmine, Jonathan, Jillian and even baby Jacinth. All the members of the family have names that begin with ‘J’: Mama is Jennifer and Daddy is Jack.
Once the order of the day is established, Daddy brings in a new family member who is given to Jonathan (Johnny) to take care of. This new edition is a goat which is to be slaughtered once fattened up. But Johnny takes his responsibilities seriously and in doing so – caring for the young goat with attention and playfulness – he gives him a name, Gringo, and becomes his friend. Gringo is the means by which Johnny’s group of friends find proud identity: they are “goatboys” as important as “cowboys” and every bit as entertaining.
The goat soon became the centre of their daily activities. It followed them around and they would feed it with leaves and fruit and anything else they felt like. They had discovered that a goat will eat almost anything. Alas, the time comes when Daddy deems the goat is ready to be slaughtered. Johnny is appalled. He tries to hide Gringo in the bush and all his goatboys help with the ruse, but it fails. Daddy is hard to put to find a solution to the problem of Gringo. Johnny’s affections are truly centred on him and it is too cruel to kill him. Ultimately, Johnny has to give up the goat to a neighbor who will raise him and tend to him. He loses his pet, but at least he will not be killed. Daddy brings home a puppy instead, but Johnny will have nothing to do with it. He has learned a harsh lesson about giving his affection to a pet. The writer of the story, his sister Jillian, will look after the puppy.
These are the bare bones of this fast-paced and delightful tale of country days and nights. We are provided with a glossary at the end of the text for words such as “Patoo” (an owl) and “puppa-lick” (a somersault). There is no effort to write creole, but the lilt of the prose in simple language and large print carries some of the feeling of the Caribbean family and their dealings with each other and the world. Campbell has written a fine tale of family and childhood hurt that will be enjoyed by all ages.
The relationship between Johnny and Jillian is carefully developed. The sister who tells the story is full of sympathy for the boy. She tries to help:
I was truly sorry for Johnny. He looked sad. I watched them leading the goat away and turned back home. I didn’t know what I was going to tell Mama. I decided to pretend innocence.
Jillian’s reward for loyalty and empathy is Ringo, the puppy Daddy brings hoe at the end of the tale. This parent is shown as sympathetic to his children, ready to do what he can to make things better for the whole family:
“What on earth!” Daddy exclaimed. But we didn’t need to ask any question. Gringo had found his way home!
By the time I caught up with him Johnny was hugging the goat as if he was the dearest friend in the world. I couldn’t help but hug him too.
Then Gringo started hopping and skipping around us in the moonlight. It was a sight to see. Mama and Daddy watched us for a while. Then, in a surprisingly calm voice, Daddy told Johnny to take him to his pen, “and no more tricks”.
Interwoven with the text are the colourful and dramatic illustrations that make the highpoints of the narrative come alive. This is a wonderful story for all the family. Campbell has used language carefully to bring out the sadness underlying the developing tension in the story where the goatboys are happily playing their games while Jillian watches from her hiding place. Their time with Gringo is almost up, and Daddy will not brook disobedience no matter how sympathetic he is to Johnny’s dilemma.
Mama too is treated to good things from Daddy:
Mama was really excited just to have a freezer. Along wit the new house it showed that we were ‘moving up’ in life. She was extra nice to Daddy all week and you could tell that she was pleased with him for being such a good provider. She was always telling us, “Be grateful to your father. He’s a good man. Look how many children never get a cent from their father.”
This is the underlying theme of the warm story about family life. Campbell is at pains to present Daddy with all his different sides, but always with understanding. Mama, too, is shown in the light of someone who is there always for her children. Johnny’s loss of Gringo is offset by the coming of Ringo, should he want to adopt the puppy. Daddy has done his best in a difficult situation.
Hazel D Campbell is the author of this award-winning book Ramgoat Dashalong (1997 Vic Reid Award for Children’s Literature sponsored by the National Book Development Council of Jamaica). She is also the author of two other books for children. She has published stories for children and adults alike and continues to write and edit children’s literature and teach courses in writing at the Philip Sherlock Centre of Creative Arts at the University of the West Indies, Mona.