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The Golden Goose

by Barbara Reid

Barbara Reid is one of Canada’s most gifted and popular illustrators. Her tantalizingly tactile Plasticine pictures have inspired imitators and won her the coveted UNICEF-Ezra Jack Keats award. Her new interpretation of the golden goose folk tale, however, may be the first time that her witty observation of detail and genius for visual storytelling fail to make a picture book soar.

Transposed uneasily into a modern, faintly 1950s suburban context, the story tells of a youngest son, Rupert, who befriends a strange old man in the forest and is then rewarded with the discovery of an all-gold goose. As each person Rupert encounters touches and then gets stuck to the goose, he trundles through town followed by a comical conga line of characters.

Unfortunately, the townspeople’s greed is not emphasized, so the tale loses its moral edge. And the cast of characters seems temporally confused and confusing: Lumberjacks with cowboy boots and old men who resemble fairytale trolls mix with the wealthy Leroy King, who dotes on his disconsolate “princess” of a daughter and tries to cheer her with a new car for her 16th birthday.

The strength of this story is its understated ecological theme: Leroy’s daughter, Gwendolyn, is dismayed when her rich dad cuts down her favourite tree and paves over the frog pond. (Those homeless frogs play a charming supporting role in the rest of the story.) She finally laughs with delight only when Rupert, our kindly hero, arrives with his golden goose, gives her an acorn, whistles to bring the wild birds close, and uncovers the buried spring. In fact, the whole book comes alive with Reid’s characteristic joyous expressiveness once these handsome young people find each other and bring nature into harmony.