January 19, 2015

Gertrude at the Beach

by Starr Dobson
Art by Dayle Dodwell
Nimbus Publishing
32 pp.
Ages 4+
October, 2014

When Gertrude Allawishes, the goat, joined young Starr's family in My Goat Gertrude (Nimbus, 2011), she began an illustrious career of chaotic entertainment for the family and also for young readers.  Now Gertrude returns for a second literary adventure in Gertrude at the Beach, with Starr Dobson, the author and the little girl whose family adopted Gertrude, sharing Gertrude's exploits when the family goes to their summer cottage.

With Gertrude's exuberance, it's no wonder that Mom is apprehensive about having the goat roaming freely around their cottage by the water.  While Chips, the dog, is called trusty, Gertrude is deemed mischievous, and Starr and her two sisters are expected to keep track of Gertrude's activities.  Both animals love to race around, though Chips sticks to playing fetch while the goat gets stuck under an old rowboat and chews up a dried jellyfish.  But when Gertrude goes missing and is found swimming farther and farther out towards a boat and needs to be rescued, the family realizes that Gertrude isn't just getting into trouble.  She's trying to tell them something.

Having never lived with a goat, I can't imagine the turmoil a goat can cause.  Sounds like Gertrude ate just about anything and put herself in some compromising circumstances. But, as Starr Dobson demonstrates in Gertrude at the Beach, Gertrude's shenanigans are not always selfish pursuits, though they are often interpreted as such.  Her haedine heart is as full as her joie de vivre but the tone of the story does not capture the affection the family must have for her.  On the other hand, while Dayle Dodwell's illustrations have the feel of traditional picture book realism, her use of colour and perspective do much to warm the story to the summer days of the past when playing in the sand with family, human and pets, was relaxed and carefree.  Surprises, whether through discovery or calamity, were few but only helped to accentuate the freedom and ease of the season. Gertrude at the Beach reflects a singular calamity on one summer day that ends on a happy note, though I wish the depth of Gertrude's positive impact on the family, whether through words or actions, might have been characterized better.

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