Bob Shea Separates the Unicorns from the GoatsJuliane Hiam
Any adult can think of moments when they’ve felt like the ugly goat being shown up by the good-looking unicorn. But when Bob Shea, the beloved “Dinosaur” children’s book author, saw this phenomenon creeping into the life of his son Ryan, he decided to write a book about it.
“When Ryan was about 6,” Shea said in a phone interview, “we would go to his soccer practices, or just hang out on the playground or wherever, and there would always be one kid that would emerge as the one labeled “best.” Kids assign these labels to the other kids around them. They look at each other and know in their heads who is the best at this or that. I thought it was interesting because Ryan would be upset because another kid was better at something than him, and I kept thinking that since he was only 6 that it was impossible that he was thinking this way. But he was.”
If a 6 year old was feeling this way in real life, then what better topic to incorporate into a book for that age group? In thinking of writing this particular book in a way that would deliver the message and tell the story in a funny and engaging way, Shea’s mind went to. . . goats.
“I started thinking about goats one day. They’re kind of horrible looking. And then I wondered if goats know just how ugly they are.”
Shea then broke off into laughter, and our discussion digressed into goat personalities, goat qualities good and bad, which breed of goat his illustrated goat character was based on. Shea laughed at this question. “You do know that the goat in my book is a couple of blobs with legs, right?”
Shea, an incredibly funny and delightful conversationalist, also has a mind that is very in tune with how children read and understand stories. He explained that if a goat were the main character, one who was feeling doubtful about his self worth, then he had to pit him against a creature that would be his exact opposite. “The obvious answer,” says Shea, “was a unicorn of course.”
The premise of the book is simple. Every time Unicorn is around, Goat starts to doubt himself. He is convinced that Unicorn is better at everything and lives a charmed life. Unicorn seems to have it all: looks, charisma, swag. It seems rainclouds never gather over Unicorn’s head. Of course none of this is really true — Goat and Unicorn each have their own particular strengths and weaknesses. When Goat gets to know Unicorn just a little better, he realizes that there are things Unicorn actually admires about HIM. Goat realizes that maybe there are things about himself he should feel pretty great about also.
It’s an important thing for us to remember as parents: kids of this age DO compare themselves with one another. They do feel less than sometimes. In every group of children, there will always be someone who will make other kids feel like the goat in the room. Bob Shea’s book will help remind kids that they’re better off celebrating each other’s strengths, not feeling jealous of them. Unicorns and goats are both pretty great.
Author photo credit: Colleen Shea