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The WAR Series: Writers as Readers, with Anne Fleming

Anne Fleming

The Kid thinks it might be a tiny white cloud. The rumours say it's a goat. All we know for sure is there is something up there on the roof of the NYC apartment building where the Kid has just moved with her parents. What isn't clear yet is that the roof goat -- if it is a goat -- might not even be the strangest thing about this very odd and very interesting building. 

So begins Anne Fleming's The Goat (Groundwood Books), a middle grade book with buckets of charm. It's never twee or silly, however, as the Kid and her new pal Will (whose parents died in the Twin Towers) explore New York City and attempt to solve the mystery of the goat. Instead, these are memorable characters in a world that is both recognizable and strange, relatable and magical.

We're thrilled to welcome Anne, whose adult fiction has garnered her nominations for the Danuta Gleed Award and the Governor General’s Literary Award, amongst many other honours. She takes on our WAR Seres: Writers as Readers to tell us about the books that have made a difference in her life. She talks about the beloved kids' book that broke the world open for her, playing it cool with grown up books, and one very impressive reading list for a 17-year old. 

The first book I remember reading on my own:

Like nine trillion and three other kids, The Cat in the Hat. I was four. I was enchanted. The world broke open. All the books on all the shelves were mine!

A book that made me cry:

Anne of Green Gables. Even now, just the thought of Matthew dying, just humming his “Anne of Green Gables, never change…” song—yes, we had the soundtrack—I can get choked up.

The first adult book I read:

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins. My thirteen year-old head spun a little at some of the content but I pretended to be utterly unfazed.

A book that made me laugh out loud:

Come, Thou Tortoise, by Jessica Grant.

The book I have re-read many times:

So many. My Narnia series is tattered to the point of disintegration. Ditto all Roald Dahl. David Copperfield. Bleak House. Fun Home. Jazz. Pretty much all of Jane Austen, all of Alice Munro. But I will choose The Fountain Overflows, by Rebecca West. What makes it a story that I love to return to again and again are the people. They are characters in a book but they do not seem like characters in a book to me. I do not mean they seem real, either, because I think to say so oversimplifies what a fictional character is. But the Aubrey family, brilliant, problematic Piers, equally brilliant musician wife Clare, insufferable sister Cordelia, ebullient Richard Quin, the twins, Mary, and Rose, Mr. Morpurgo, Miss Beevor — are alive and funny and complicated and they love in so many different ways.

A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:

Portnoy’s Complaint.

The book I would give my seventeen year old self, if I could: 

My seventeen year old self did just fine, I think. That was the year I read War and Peace and The Brothers Karamozov, deep into my Russian phase. I loved The Idiot. I loved Gogol’s The Nose.

A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:

Nicholas Knock and Other People, by Dennis Lee — funny, irreverent, and local. Also, Six Memos for the Next Millenium, by Italo Calvino, which made immediate sense to me. It seemed to codify what I didn’t know I knew.

The best book I read in the past six months:

The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit. Throaty Wipes, by Susan Holbrook. And can I sneak one in from last year? A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki. 

The books I plan on reading next:

The Year of Lear, by James Shapiro, The Tightrope Walkers, by David Almond, Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, Virginia Tufte. 

A possible title for my autobiography:

It’s a toss-up. No Toe Socks For Me (two of my toes are joined together) or Fourth (what I came in birth order and most sports).


Anne Fleming is the author of Pool-Hopping and Other Stories (shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the Danuta Gleed Award, and the Governor General’s Literary Award), and Anomaly and Gay Dwarves of America. She is a long-time and highly regarded teacher of creative writing who has taught at the University of British Columbia, Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Douglas College, Kwantlen University College, and the Banff Centre for the Arts. The Goat is her first full-length work for young readers.

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The Goat

When Kid accompanies her parents to New York City for a six-month stint of dog-sitting and home-schooling, she sees what looks like a tiny white cloud on the top of their apartment building.

Rumor says there’s a goat living on the roof, but how can that be?

As Kid soon discovers, a goat on the roof may be the least strange thing about her new home, whose residents are both strange and fascinating.

In the penthouse lives Joff Vanderlinden, the famous skateboarding fantasy writer, who happens to be blind. On the ninth floor are Doris and Jonathan, a retired couple trying to adapt to a new lifestyle after Jonathan’s stroke. Kenneth P. Gill, on the tenth, loves opera and tends to burble on nervously about his two hamsters — or are they guinea pigs? Then there’s Kid’s own high-maintenance mother, Lisa, who is rehearsing for an Off Broadway play and is sure it will be the world’s biggest flop.

Kid is painfully shy and too afraid to talk to new people at first, but she is happy to explore Manhattan, especially the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park, where she meets Will, who is also home-schooled and under the constant watchful eye of his grandmother. As Kid and Will become friends, she learns that Will’s parents died in the Twin Towers. Will can’t look out windows, he is a practitioner of Spoonerism, and he is obsessed with the Ancient Egyptian Tomb of Perneb.

When Kid learns that the goat will bring good luck to whoever sees it, suddenly it becomes very important to know whether the goat on the roof is real. So Kid and Will set out to learn the truth, even if it means confronting their own fears.