Middle School Fiction Review: The Goatnappers by Rosa Jordan

In this sequel to Lost Goat Lane, author Rosa Jordan has chosen 15-year-old Justin Martin as her main character. Although Justin is thrilled to have been picked for the varsity baseball team in his freshman year, he soon finds his life too complicated to give baseball practice his full attention. Unwittingly selling his pet goat to a man who abuses animals, Justin is faced with a hard decision about what to do about it. To cause further problems, his absentee father shows up and wants Justin to be part of his life.

The vibrant community of Justin’s family and helpful neighbors lend warmth and reality to the story. It is adorable how the younger children come to tell Justin what they have overheard adults say about him. They have a regular communication network established, which is just how young children tend to be. If they know something, they can’t wait to tell.

Without giving away the entire plot I have to say I was a bit disappointed about the way the “goatnapping” was handled, although I do think it opens the door for useful conversations about how to deal with injustice and whether breaking the law is ever justified.

If you haven’t read Lost Goat Lane, I would definitely recommend reading it first. Lost Goat Lane won awards and was the inspiration of a Showtime movie called The Sweetest Gift. The Goatnappers is a pleasant follow up story that raises some important issues, giving the reader plenty of room to make up his or her own mind.

The Goatnappers by Rosa Jordan
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Pub. Date: April 2007
ISBN-13: 9781561454006
ISBN-10: 1561454001
Ages 9-12 Middle School

Stories and Real Life

My son pulled out A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books last weekend for yet another reading. We have read them together again and again through the years, and still find something new to enjoy each time. My son appreciates the gentle humor and easy relationships between the characters, I think.

While reading the books, I often pictured Milne telling the same stories to Christopher Robin in a big old armchair, a scruffy Pooh bear tucked in beside them, lit by a nice fire crackling in the fireplace. I often wondered how Christopher Robin benefited from having these wonderful stories written just for him. Therefore, when I spotted Enchanted Places, an autobiographical work by Christopher Milne, I was eager to find out what his life had been like.

As is often the case, imagination does not quite meet reality. The Just-Pooh.com website has a description of Christopher Milne’s life if you want to get a quick summary. Basically, as was the culture at that time and place, Christopher Robin was raised by a nanny and sent off to boarding school. He had little interaction with his father and he did not enjoy the stories at all. He felt the books were more about his father than himself.

It was a rude awakening to realize this could be true of my writing, too. I keep Christopher Milne’s resentful words in mind whenever I write something “for” my son. I hope it keeps me more honest.

Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne

When We Were Very Young (Pooh Original Edition) by A. A. Milne, Ernest H. Shepard

Women Artists: Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo

Because March is National Women’s History Month, let’s look at two books about famous women artists: Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo. Both are in the “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists” series by Mike Venezia.

Georgia O’Keeffe starts with a breathtaking portrait of a young Georgia by her husband, the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz. The next few pages show some of her paintings with just a few lines of explanation. Following is a cartoon about how this famous artist ate dirt as a child. What person, young or old, can’t relate to that with a grin? Venezia makes a point to explain early influences in Georgia’s life and how she studied to become an artist. He also emphasizes her interest in nature and use of bright colors.

Frida Kahlo is another vibrant female artist who used bright colors, but her life was very different from Georgia O’Keeffe’s. Frida was ill as a child and then the victim of a severe bus accident. She was in pain and had serious health problems throughout her life. Frida is known for her intense, riveting self-portraits. Like Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida had a famous husband, the artist Diego Rivera.

Although I highly recommend these books, I do have one small note of caution. Because they contain paintings by adult artists, a few of the images may be unsettling. In Georgia O’Keeffe, one of her paintings shows a dead rabbit, and the author chose Paul Cezanne’s “The Large Bathers” as an example of an artwork that influenced O’Keeffe. I never thought much about nudity in art until I found a piece of construction paper taped over a nude in one of Venezia’s other books at the library, which is why I mention it. In Frida Kahlo there is a graphic painting of her illness where food is pouring out of her mouth that could be disturbing. The artwork by other Mexican artists consists of scenes of war.

On the other hand, the art can be exquisitely beautiful as well, and shouldn’t be missed. Georgia O’Keeffe’s giant flowers are soft and entrancing. Frida Kahlo is a petite woman with a huge presence in her paintings.

As an art masterpiece volunteer for five years, I learned to treasure Mike Venezia’s books. He gives clear and informative discussions of the artist’s life illustrated with a good number of well-chosen examples of their work. The format is always similar in a comfortable way, with humorous cartoons to add instant kid appeal. The books are slim 8 x 9 ½-inch paperbacks that are easy to hold and carry. The best part is the books can be used with children of a wide range of ages and levels of art experience.

If you want to expose children to artists and art history, you should consider these books.


Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week join the action at Lori Calabrese Writes!

Georgia O’Keeffe (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists) by Mike Venezia

Frida Kahlo (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists) by Mike Venezia