• Best birthday wishes to Neil Gaiman (The Graveyard Book).
  • Happy birthday to the United States Marine Corps, first formed on this day in 1775. Read The Journal of Patrick Seamus Flaherty by Ellen White.
  • Can you hear me now? Direct-dial coast-to-coast telephone service begins in the United States in 1951. Read Telephone by Kornei Chukovsky.
  • In 1958, the allegedly cursed Hope Diamond is donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Read The Robbery at the Diamond Dog Diner by Eileen Christelow.
  • Happy birthday Sesame Street. The television show debuted in 1969.

Today for Young Readers Week I am going to look at one of the most powerful books ever written for twelve- to fourteen-year-olds. Like all books that change us and make us a different person, I remember exactly where I was and how I felt the first time I read it. I was Editor of Horn Book, started and finished it in my office, and then was just grateful that the door was closed. In rereading Brock Cole’s The Goats, I once again had the visceral feeling that I had been punched in the stomach. The Goats has lost none of its power over the last 24 years.

Two young people, Howie and Laura, are attending summer camp and find themselves the subjects of a cruel action: Both are stripped of their clothes and then left stranded together on an island. Their plight has been engineered as part of a camp ritual to mock the outsiders, “the goats,” who other campers don’t like. But rather than remain victims, Howie figures out a way to get the two of them to the shoreline. At first he has to keep a survival scenario going; in the end Laura will save them both. They wander making things up as they go, breaking into a house to steal some clothes and food, traveling and trying to stay out of camp. Both understand that absolutely, under no circumstances, will they go back to the camp and people who have bullied them.

By the time Brock Cole wrote The Goats he had created a body of picture books. Certainly in control of the craft of writing, he draws with a sure hand two totally believable characters and a horrible situation; slowly he shows the growth and change of Laura and Howie as they move from victims to young people who carry themselves with dignity. They do so in a world where the adults are either absent or uncaring. One of the things that Brock accomplishes so brilliantly is their feeling of being utterly alone, of needing to find solutions for themselves in a hostile world.

Although the book has been controversial since publication, many young readers have found comfort in it. In the end The Goats suggests that no matter how horrific the situation you find yourself in, there is a solution, which you can work toward. I certainly know what it is like to be “a goat.” I know what it is like to feel alone and abandoned by the adults in my life. When I read and reread this book, I recognize that Brock Cole gets that reality completely right. For anyone who is going or has gone through difficulties with peers and family, The Goats can provide a light in a dark world. For as Laura says at the end: “Hold on….Hold on.”

Here’s a passage from The Goats:

“You go,” she said quietly into the grass. “You get someone.”

He didn’t know if he could. He was shaking with cold, and he wondered if they were going to die. It seemed ridiculous, to die on the front lawn of someone’s summer cottage. There was a road not far away. At camp everyone would be snoring in their sleeping bags and soon they would be eating breakfast. It was summer. How could they be dying like this?

“I’m going to try to break in,” he said.


Originally posted November 10, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Seasons, Summer, Survival
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for The Goats
One year ago: Hachiko Waits


  1. I didn’t discover The Goats until I went back to school to get my MFA in Writing for Children. It’s a masterfully-written book and I still use it when looking at questions of craft. Thanks for bringing light to a great book.

  2. brandie says:

    I haven’t heard of this book, I will definitely check it out.

  3. Rebecca says:

    I just read this and like you, I was blown away. It’s interesting, though – I didn’t really think about the angle of the children being abandoned by their adults (although that totally fits the bill). I found Laura’s relationship with her mother fascinating – it wasn’t so much that she was “abandoned” by her mother, but the two were completely unable to find common ground. That story line was very powerful to me; in learning to have a relationship with her mother, Laura had to rely upon herself.

  4. Rebecca says:

    ps – don’t you just think the “Lord of the Flies”-esque cover is absolutely perfect!?!

  5. J.P. Blasko says:

    I was not aware of this book until last year when I read it for Cathie Mercier’s Lit Crit class. Man, is this not a light romp of a middle grade novel – it’s sad and real and emotionally hefty. I wonder if it has had more relevance in schools lately as bullying has become a huge concern?

  6. Bob Kosturko says:

    Bought “The Goats” for my Kindle yesterday and just finished it. I’m still processing the ending and probably will continue to wrestle with it for a while. What a powerful and moving novel.

  7. Tahleen says:

    I have never heard of this book—I will have to check it out! I love finding hidden gems on your blog, thank you!

  8. GM Hakim says:

    Definitely an odd book – it’s controversial for its content and paints a different picture of adolescent outcasts than we typically see in most books, but it’s an engaging read with startlingly real characters. I wouldn’t rush out to recommend it to just anyone, but if you are looking for something that breaks the mold, that isn’t the same old formula, then this is definitely the book for you.

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