“I loved this book. It's one of those books that you just want to give to everybody.” —Nancy Pearl on NPR’s Morning Edition
“An astute, engaging debut” (Publishers Weekly), The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming tale of a community in need of reconciliation and two girls learning what it means to belong.
England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced, and decide to take matters into their own hands.
Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover more than they ever imagined. A complicated history of deception begins to emerge—everyone on the Avenue has something to hide.
During that sweltering summer, the lives of all the neighbors begin to unravel. The girls come to realize that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was starting to peel back just before she disappeared...
“A thoughtful tale of loyalty and friendship, family dynamics and human nature” (Kirkus Reviews), this glorious debut is part coming-of-age story, part mystery. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep radiates an unmistakable warmth and intelligence and is “rife with tiny extraordinaries” (The New York Times Book Review). “Joanna Cannon is an author to watch” (Booklist, starred review).
This readering group guide for The Trouble with Goats and Sheep includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
One summer day in 1976, Margaret Creasy disappears, disrupting the quiet lives of her neighbors on the avenue. Her husband is sure she’ll be back before long; the rest of the neighborhood blames it on the record heat wave they’re suffering. But the longer Mrs. Creasy is gone, the more people start to whisper about what made her leave.
After a sermon from their local vicar, two girls, Grace and Tilly, decide to look for God. Their search brings them to every house on the cul-de-sac, and as they question their neighbors, they inadvertently touch on old wounds and long-kept secrets, forcing the inhabitants of the avenue to face the past and admit that they might just know what happened to Mrs. Creasy.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why do you think Joanna Cannon set the novel during England’s heat wave of 1976, and what effect does the weather have on her characters?
2. What do you think of Walter Bishop when he is first introduced? How accurate or extreme are his neighbors’ views of him? Did reading The Trouble with Goats and Sheep make you think about how you judge others?
3. Is a small community like the avenue more a force for evil or for good?
4. How do the different characters in the novel carry their secrets? How does this reflect your experience among your friends and family?
5. Who do you think is the better detective, Grace or Tilly? How do their distinct personalities impact their sleuthing?
6. Do you think Dorothy Forbes really has difficulty with her memory? How does her relationship with her husband Harold affect that?
7. The avenue inhabitants have many different versions of the same story. What motivates each of them?
8. Consider the image on the drainpipe. Was it a divine message, or somehow spiritual? Why or why not?
9. The events of the summer of 1976 are formative for Grace and Tilly. Can you think of a particular summer memory from your childhood that left a lasting impression on you?
10. “The world is full of goats and sheep. You just have to try and work out which is which” (page 195). Who are the goats and who are the sheep at the end of the novel?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Imagine what happened when Mrs. Creasy returned to the avenue, and discuss your ideas with the group.
2. Grace and Tilly’s summer days can be measured out in television programs and spoonfuls of Angel Delight. Get nostalgic and think back to your own childhood summer vacations: what were the cultural moments, treats, or experiences that define those memories for you?
Joanna Cannon is a psychiatrist with a degree from Leicester Medical School. She lives in England’s Peak District with her family and her dog. She is the author of Three Things About Elsie and The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, a top ten bestseller in the UK.
“Cannon’s intense specificity captures a world in amber, permitting intimate access to the pantries, gardens, and garages of Britain’s past… a microcosm rife with tiny extraordinaries… Cannon is a mapmaker; her stories create an atlas... As in George Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual, the secrets of each household come to light.”
– Samantha Hunt, The New York Times Book Review
"This cautionary tale of a suburban power struggle is charming and truthful, at once ambitious and intimate, with playful prose that reveals an intriguing mind at work."
– James Hannah, author of The A to Z of You and Me
"A masterfully constructed plot... This understated, somewhat quirky debut novel is remarkable for its structure, characterizations, pitch-perfect prose, touches of humor, and humanity. Cannon is an author to watch."
– Michele Leber, Booklist (starred review)
"Reminiscent of Scout Finch with shades of Flavia de Luce, 10-year-olds Grace and Tilly spend the sweltering summer of 1976 investigating two mysteries... Quirky characters, playful language and humor offset the tension. The child detectives may have gotten themselves into more than they bargained for, but their adventure leads their street toward closer community and the novel to an upbeat conclusion."
– Cheryl Krocker McKeon, Shelf Awareness
"A fabulous first novel... laced with wonderful, wonderful touches of humor, including an absolutely priceless scene where Tilly and Grace make one of their regular trips to the library and are looking for something good to read. I loved this book. It's one of those books that you just want to give to everybody." --Nancy Pearl on NPR's Morning Edition