Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War

Tundra. Sept. 2019. 40p. photos. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780735264427.
K-Gr 2–During World War I, soldiers traveling by train stop in a small town and see a little girl named Daisy with her goat. They think a goat mascot will bring them good luck and ask to “borrow” Billy. There is little background on the soldiers or Daisy, and it is not until the story’s end that readers discover that Billy is Canadian, specifically from Saskatchewan. Billy is smuggled aboard a ship to England and then brought to the trenches of France. It all seems like a light-hearted lark by the soldiers. Some readers may question the focus on a goat at the front and the somewhat trivialized depiction of life in the trenches. When there is no food, Billy eats a sock. Corresponding illustrations show a shell-shocked and bandaged Billy with trench foot but happy. Ultimately, Billy gets a medal for bravery in the face of danger. The illustrations are realistic but are missing any sense of difficulty at the front. We see a happy goat, happy soldiers, and a slightly frowning Colonel who does not think goats belong at the front. Billy survives; after the war ends, the animal travels back to Daisy in Canada.
VERDICT Although young readers often enjoy stories about service animals, this unusual story, which is similar in tone and format to Lindsay Mattick’s Finding Winnie but without the background details, seems to lack a deeper literary significance. It would be surprising if it caught the attention of young readers.

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