Nicole and the Goat Who Read Books

[Mom and Dad, this is for your younger daughter. Maybe not now, but at one time she might have sympathized with Nicole and treasured a friend like Bruce.  She still might sympathize with Nicole and perhaps enjoy the story.  I’m sure she has many Bruces in her busy life.]

                Bruce was a nanny goat who lived on the Sampson farm.  Yes, ‘Bruce.’  You and I know, ‘Bruce’ seems to us a boy’s name.  To goats, I suppose it doesn’t make much difference. Or is probably not at all important.  Not considering there are so many truly important things to occupy our attention. Bruce was an ordinary goat as goats go. Well, actually, goats consider there is no such thing as ordinary.  Goats fairly well agree everyone, every goat, is exceptional in one way or another.

                Bruce was a Boer goat.  Being a Boer goat, from Boervania, I suppose, she was mostly white with lovely, soft brown covering her front shoulders and most of her face.  Her brown parts looked like a t-shirt pulled not quite all the way down over her head. She had big floppy ears the same brown as her t-shirt that looked so soft, you just wanted to snuggle your face in them. Bruce was exceptional in a way particularly amusing to people.  Except that not many people knew of Bruce’s special talent. Really, no people knew of Bruce’s talent.  That is, no one knew until Bruce noticed Nicole one day sitting under an apple tree with a book.

                Nicole was the youngest Sampson girl.  She was all about girl things.  Running, watching birds, taking care of the smaller Sampson animals, climbing trees, helping her mom with gardening and shopping, and watching her daddy and the hands tend the larger stock and drive tractors to and fro.  Most days, there was a lot of to-and-fro-ing, tending farm business on the Sampson farm. Now and again, Nicole helped her daddy drive one of the big tractors.

                This particular bright sun-shiny day, under the apple tree, Nicole was focused on the pages of a book she held in her lap.  As Bruce curiously walked up to her, Nicole looked up to see Walter, one of the youngest Sampson Billy goats standing on a pile of gray gravel dumped just that morning onto the driveway.  Since the gravel pile was waiting for someone to spread it across the farmyard driveway, Walter found it a delight to climb. He pretended it was the tallest mountain in the world.  It was, for the moment, the tallest mountain in the Sampson farmyard.

“Look there at Walter. On top of that gravel pile.  What fun he’s having,” said Nicole, smiling.

Bruce said, “That’s Greg.  He’s just showing off. Little boy goats do that.”

“His name is Walter,” corrected Nicole.

“No, Nicole, his name is Greg.  That’s his real name.”

“Is your real name Bruce?” asked Nicole looking up at Bruce.

“It is,” said Bruce, rather matter-of-factly.

“You don’t mind it’s a boy’s name?”

“Nicole,” said Bruce after she stopped chewing whatever it was she was chewing and swallowed, “It doesn’t make any difference to me.  Not to the other goats either.  I rather like my name, actually.”

“Oh,” replied Nicole. She shrugged her shoulders and went back to looking at her book.

Bruce stuck her nose into the pages of the book cradled in Nicole’s lap. “Not a lot of pictures in this book,” she said to Nicole. 

“Yes, I know,” replied Nicole.  “I like books with pictures, but this book has my favorite story in it.  I can’t read, yet, you know. I wish I could.”

“Would you like me to read it to you?” asked Bruce, with her head still in the pages of the book.

Nicole looked up at Bruce, surprised, with her mouth wide open. She hardly could speak; she was so surprised.  Nicole’s delay caused Bruce to lift her head out of the book to look Nicole in the eye.

“I can do that. That is, if you’d like,” repeated Bruce.

Nicole, stammered, “Bruce!  You, you, you read books?”

Bruce was chewing again.  She had to swallow to reply to Nicole.

“Sure.  Most animals can. Some better than others. I’m particularly good at it because I like to read.”

“You, you, you read books?” stammered Nicole again.

Bruce grinned a nanny-goat grin and said, “Nicole, you don’t mind that we talk, you and I, but you find it unusual that I can read?”

“Well, no.  I mean, I thought everyone talked with you. I hear them all the time.”

“At first. But as people get older, they get busy and forget to listen. Most adult people have actually forgotten how to listen.  Really.  They just talk at other animals, not to us.”  Bruce was chewing again.  Nicole was silent, so Bruce swallowed and continued. “I can fix any one of those big green tractors.  If I had thumbs, I mean, but I know how.  I’ve read all the books. Oh.  And that seed catalog you dropped on the way inside with the mail from the mailbox?”

Nicole blurted out, “I picked that up when I saw it wasn’t there. When I put the mail on daddy’s desk.”

“But I read almost all of it.  Some interesting new pumpkin varieties this year,” offered Bruce, just before starting to chew again.

Nicole was quiet.  Bruce swallowed and asked the same question again, “Would you like me to read the book to you?”

“No, thank you,” replied Nicole.  “What I really want to do is read myself.  I wonder if I’ll ever learn to read.”

“It will happen soon.  In your school.”

“It takes too long!  I can’t wait that long!”

Once again, Bruce had to swallow.  She said, “How about I teach you?”

Nicole jumped up and took hold of Bruce’s face, pulling it close.  Nicole put her face right next to Bruce’s, nose-to-nose.  You would do that?”

“Bruce swallowed again. “Said so.  We can do that, you and I.”

“How?” asked Nicole.  As she asked, a frown covered her face.  (Bruce, I think, thought she saw a tear starting to peep out of Nicole’s eye.) “It must be so very hard to do!” added Nicole, terribly frustrated.

Bruce swallowed. (She had this habit, of chewing and chewing and chewing, you see. Most goats do.) “It’s not easy, no, but it certainly is not difficult,” she said.

“But how do I start?” asked Nicole.

“You know your alphabet and numerals, right?” Bruce asked, smiling her nanny-goat smile.

“My big sister, Emily says numbers are not important to reading.”

“Maybe.  I won’t argue with your sister, but you should keep working on numbers.”

“They’re important to reading?”

“Not so much, but they have other very, very important uses.”

“Okay.  I pretty much thought to do that anyway.  I like numbers and they make a whole lot more sense than the alphabet.”

“Well, to read,” began Bruce, “We only need the alphabet right now. You do know the alphabet, right?”

“Sure.  Yes. I mean, doesn’t everybody?”

“Um, no.  But you know the sounds the letters make?”

“Some of them are tricky.  They have more than one sound. Seems kind of complicated.”

“Only at first.  But knowing the alphabet you can read.” 

“I dunno. The letters are all jumbled-up,” said Nicole with a new frown on her face.

“Well it goes like this. Open that book.”  Nicole did.  Bruce stuck her nose in the book and started to chew some more.  She swallowed.  “Excuse me, I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay,” said Nicole.

Bruce began, “See how some letters are standing right beside one another, even though they’re mixed-up?”  Nicole nodded.  “See how there’s an empty spot?  A spot with no letter before more letters?” Nicole nodded again.  “Those letters all-together are a ‘word.’ The empty spots – ‘spaces’ they are called, separate the words. 

Nicole looked up at Bruce, her eyes ready to watch Bruce talk, and her ears ready to listen to what Bruce said.

“Now,” began Bruce, “What you do is, you make all the sounds of the letters of a ’word,’ make them all at once, right after one-another.  Listen to the sound.  It will be almost, if not exactly, the word.  Here, pick a word from the book.”

Nicole pointed to a word with her finger.

“Too many letters. Pick a smaller one.  We should start small,” advised Bruce.

Nicole picked a word with three letters.

“What are the letters?” Asked Bruce.

“B,” said Nicole.

“And the next?”


“And the last one?”


“What sound does B make?” asked Bruce.

“Buh,” said Nicole.

“And I?”


“The other ‘I’ sound.” coached Bruce.


“And G?”


“So all at once they make the sounds…” prompted Bruce.


“What does that sound like?” asked Bruce.

“Buh-ee-guh Bu-ee-gah. Beeg.  Big!”

“Yup.  Lookit there.  You’re reading all ready.”

“Just one word.”

“Had to start somewhere.  One word, then another. I bet you never have to stop to think about B-I-G ever again.”

“This is going to be work. There are so many words,” Nicole pouted.

“It gets easier and faster,” suggested Bruce.

“What are those little dots?” asked Nicole.

“Periods.  The end of a sentence.  They mean it’s okay to stop and breathe.”

“I can’t go around making out-loud sounds,” said Nicole.

“Why not?” asked Bruce.

“Yeah.  Why not!” agreed Nicole.

“After a while, Nicole, you can read in your head and you don’t have to sound-out the words.”

“I can’t wait for that!”

“In time.  Let’s just work on one word at a time.”

And they did.  All through the afternoon, until Nicole’s big sister called from the back porch that it was time for supper.  Momma and daddy thought it being such a lovely evening, they’d eat supper outside on the picnic table in the back yard. During supper, as families do, they chatted about their day.

Daddy began, “Nicole, you’ve been busy under the tree with Bruce most of the day. What are you doing there?”

“I’m learning to read, Daddy!”

“I see,” said Daddy.   Daddy and momma and big sister just smiled politely at Nicole.  Then, they smiled at each other, as if they didn’t really believe Nicole, but understood that when someone wants something very much, it’s easy to pretend.  Nicole looked at Bruce, who was standing on the other side of the pear tree that shaded the picnic table.  Bruce was chewing.  And Bruce was smiling at Nicole.  Nicole smiled back at Bruce.  Nicole and Bruce both shrugged their shoulders.  Nicole shrugged in the way a young lady just learning to read does.  Bruce shrugged the way a nanny goat does.

For several days, I don’t know, maybe a week or so, Bruce and Nicole worked away at learning to read.  When learning became tiresome, Bruce read to Nicole.  When Bruce needed to rest and chew, Nicole read to Bruce. Yes, she was getting to be that good at this reading thing! And she liked it!

One evening, daddy, momma, and Nicole were headed out the back door. Nicole spied Bruce in the driveway, talking, she thought, to Greg.  Maybe trying to convince Greg it was time to join the other goats in the lane behind the big red barn.

“Oh, look,” began daddy, “there’s a package on the porch.  I wonder who it’s from.”

“I’ll look, daddy,” began Nicole who was still on the porch.  She bent over the package, studying the letters and words. “It says,” began Nicole, “From Mor-gan Farm Supply, at 5201 Main street in Little-burg, O-hi-o.”

Daddy was on his way up the steps when Nicole told him what the label said.  He stopped right there at the bottom step.  He turned to look at momma.  Momma’s face showed she was surprised too.  “Goodness!” momma said.  “Nicole has been learning to read!”

“Has someone been helping you, Nicole?” asked daddy.

“A friend,” answered Nicole. “A very good friend.”

“Your friend has done an amazing job, Nicole! You be sure to tell your friend ‘thank you!’” said momma. Momma, of course knew no one had visited the farm the last two weeks. She, like daddy thought there wasn’t really a friend helping Nicole.

“Oh, she knows I’m thankful. I tell her every day,” said Nicole.

Nicole’s big sister said, “I’m so proud of you, sis, for learning to read all by yourself!”

“But I had help,” insisted Nicole.

“Sure!” said Nicole’s big sister, grinning a great big big-sister smile.

Nicole looked over at Bruce, who by this time had Greg off his mountain.  Bruce smiled a nanny goat smile at Nicole and shrugged a nanny goat shrug.  Nicole smiled back and shrugged herself.

Bruce and Nicole worked all through the summer reading.  They almost ran out of books.  They did in fact read some, especially the one with Nicole’s favorite story, more than once.  Nicole borrowed some books from daddy’s office for Bruce to read.  Bruce especially liked those.

By the time Nicole started back to school in the fall, she was reading rather well. Her teachers kept her supplied with new books.  Books about her favorite things: princesses and ponies, dragons and daffodils, and unicorns and leprechauns. Nicole’s teachers and the most helpful librarian let her take some of them home.  Now and again she found a special book about “How Things Work.” Of course, Nicole had a friend at home to share these books with.  Her friend especially enjoyed the “How Things Work” book.  Yes, her very special friend Bruce enjoyed that a great deal.

Bruce and Nicole are still very special friends.  They will probably be special friends for a long time.  Nicole will always remember the summer she learned how to read with the help of her special friend, Bruce, the goat who read books.

(c) S P Wilcenski 2020

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