Grumpy Goat and What to Do with the Sad that You Feel

Grumpy Goat, by Brett Helquist. HarperCollins, 2013.61ticg-ri6l-_sx258_bo1204203200_

Dr V.’s take:

One thing people like about kids is how damn happy they can be. Extremely medium jokes about interrupting cows are the height of hilarity in their worldview—-and never (ever!) get old!—-and they can turn pretty much anything into irrational amounts of joy: crunchy leaves, the existence of squirrels, their own butts. If you can get past the mysterious perpetual stickiness, it’s hard not to laugh when you’re around a little kid for any extended period of time. I’ve often tried to remember what it felt like to have a heart so open, but I can’t get back there with any significant lucidity.

Open hearts, however, are also susceptible to disappointment (see: tantrums; the flip side of the ability to act like a basic trip to the park is a party in your honor is the inability to control your devastation at being asked to wear a coat because it is winter.)

And small, young people experience loss, too, and grief and sadness.

Less gravely, they also sometimes just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and want to try out cantankerousness for awhile and see how it suits them.

For these days, as in all days, we need books.

Enter Grumpy Goat, a very sweet book about cantankerousness and grief.

When Goat first arrives at the farm, he’s similar to a contestant on The Bachelor in that he’s not there to make friends: “He just kept his head down, scowled, and ate.” (Goat’s hunger, and his inability to feel satiated, may ring familiar, which is brilliant or awful, depending on how much you’re in the mood for a children’s picture book to gaze into your termite-infested soul). hqdefaultBut when he comes across something that strikes him as beautiful, his impulse to care for it disrupts his glare-eat-glare routine, and makes room for some pretty cool games of tag and companionship with his peers.

In many—-maybe even most—-children’s books, this would be the end of the story. And Goat lived happily ever after.

Grumpy Goat takes us a little further, however: the bright days don’t last forever. But when Goat finds himself grieving a loss, his new friends’ response is itself beautiful, too: the pigs “sit with him awhile”; Cow brings him dinner; and “the sheep don’t know what to do, so they stay nearby.” And when Goat is ready to be happy again, so are they.

Helquist packs this model for how to feel hard feelings, and how to help a friend who is feeling hard feelings, into a concise, perfectly paced story—-a sentence or two per page against soothing, full-size illustrations. The protagonist may technically be a goat, but Grumpy Goat helps us practice being human.

* * * * * * *

BONUS RELEVANT MATERIAL:

Check this video of Mr. Rogers explaining why PBS matters to a Senate subcommittee, using his song “What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel?”

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