The Goose Girl — "Books of Bayern" Series
This fantasy book by Shannon Hale is the first in the "Books of Bayern" series and is published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing.
The Goose Girl is written for kids ages 11 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Ani, the crown princess of Kildenree, spends most of her childhood with her aunt because her parents are busy with their royal duties. Ani's aunt has the magical ability of animal-speaking, and she teaches Ani how to understand the speech of animals. When Ani is 7 years old, her aunt leaves the court of Kildenree and warns Ani not to inform the queen that she can talk to animals. Ani is saddened when her mother forbids her from trying to speak with any animals, and soon Ani hears that her aunt has died.
When Ani is 16, her beloved father, the king, dies in a horseback riding accident. At the king's funeral, Ani is surprised to hear her mother announce that Ani will not be the next monarch of Kildenree — Ani's younger brother will take the throne. Instead of ruling Kildenree, Ani will be sent to the neighboring country of Bayern to marry its crown prince.
On the long journey to Bayern, Ani is betrayed by Selia, her best friend and lady-in-waiting. Selia uses her persuasive gift of people-speaking to convince Ani's guardsmen to regard Selia, not Ani, as the rightful princess. Ani is outside of the camp when the mutiny occurs, but she overhears the guardsmen planning to hunt her down and replace her with Selia before they arrive in Bayern. Ani runs away from her guards and wanders through the woods for several days.
Ani eventually finds a forest cottage where a woman named Gilsa lives. Gilsa is kind to Ani, but Ani decides not to reveal that she is the fugitive princess of Kildenree. Disguised as a beggar, Ani travels to the busy marketplace of Bayern with Gilsa's son, where she sees Selia impersonating her. Ani tries to meet with the king to expose Selia's lies, but since the king of Bayern has never previously met Ani in person, he does not recognize that she is the true princess. Instead, he sees that Ani is in need of an occupation, so he makes her the royal goose girl in charge of caring for the king's geese. Meanwhile, Selia lives in Bayern's palace, waiting for her springtime wedding to the crown prince.
Ani's life as a goose girl is difficult, but she has food and shelter and makes new friends. She is particularly fond of a young royal guard named Geric, who lets her ride his horse. Ani is worried that her former guards will find and kill her, but she escapes detection during the autumn season. While attending a winter festival with other laborers, Ani is discovered by one of her former guards, but before the guard can kill her, she is rescued by Bayern peacekeepers. As the winter passes, Ani begins to understand the language of the wind as well as the language of animals. She even commands the wind to defend her when thieves who are trying to steal her geese attack.
When winter ends, Ani hears that Bayern is preparing to attack Kildenree. Selia has incited this war by lying that Kildenree is preparing to attack Bayern. The night after she learns of the impending war, Ani is discovered by another of her former guards, Ungolad. Ungolad stabs Ani in the back, but Ani runs into the forest and is again helped by Gilsa. At Gilsa's house, Ani learns that Talone, one of her only loyal guards, is still alive and hiding in Bayern. Ani and Talone are reunited, and together they return to the city of Bayern.
Ani learns that the army of Bayern has already marched to attack Kildenree. All of Ani's servant friends are now aware of her true identity, and they march with her to the palace to tell the king the truth. The king, Selia and the rest of the nobles are not at the castle because they have traveled to a remote location to oversee the prince's wedding to Selia. Ani and her friends journey to the remote castle, and Selia and her traitorous guards capture Ani.
Selia threatens Ani, but the king and the crown prince of Bayern overhear Selia's speech and discover that she is an imposter. Ani is surprised to discover that the crown prince is actually her friend Geric, who had disguised himself as a royal guard when they first met. A fight breaks out between Selia's guards and the guards of Bayern. Ungolad holds a knife to Ani's throat, but she frees herself by summoning the wind and using it to push his arm away. Geric fights with Ungolad and kills him. Selia is captured, and Ani is recognized as the true princess of Kildenree. The attack on Kildenree is called off.
Geric admits that he has always loved Ani, even when he thought she was a goose girl. Geric and Ani decide to continue with their planned marriage, and Ani prepares to have a happy, fulfilled life in Bayern.
Other Belief Systems
Ani's aunt tells her the story of the Creator who spoke the very first word. All living creatures on the planet spoke this word, and were then able to communicate with one another. Over time, the plants and animals lost the ability to speak to each other.
Ani's aunt explains that there are three supernatural gifts that humans can have. People-speaking is the ability to influence people with words, and animal-speaking is the ability to talk to animals, which is a rare gift. Nature-speaking, the ability to communicate with and influence nature, is the most rare of the three talents. Ani discovers that she is able to nature-speak with the wind when she commands the winds to toss dirt and pebbles at some thieves who attack her and her geese.
In Kildenree, Ani communicates telepathically with Falada, a white stallion and her closest friend.
The queen of Kildenree gives Ani a magical handkerchief for protection on the road to Bayern. The handkerchief is stained with a few drops of the queen's blood, and it protects Ani from being fooled by Selia's people-speaking.
In Bayern, the rotting corpses of executed men hang from a wall. Teenage boys who live in Bayern are cut by javelins in a coming-of-age ritual where they must dance blindfolded inside a circle of javelins. Ani is stabbed in the back by one of her former guards. In a fight, men are killed with swords.
A guardsman named Ishta approaches Ani on the road to Bayern, with the intent of sexually assaulting her. Other approaching guards frighten him away before he can touch Ani. Ani's friend Enna tells a legend about ancient women of Bayern stripping themselves to the waists in broad daylight to remind their warrior husbands of why they must fight. The wives tell their husbands that if the enemy is not vanquished, the enemy soldiers will capture the women and make them bear their illegitimate children. Selia kisses Ungolad, her guard. Ani and Geric kiss.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics: :
- Ani's aunt says that the gift of people-speaking can be used for good, but it also can be dangerous.
- How does Ani's mother, the queen of Kildenree, use her people-speaking power for the good of the kingdom?
- How does Ani's lady-in-waiting, Selia, use her people-speaking power for evil purposes?
- How do your words influence people?
What do you think it means when Proverbs 18:21 says death and life are in the power of the tongue?
Why is Ani's handmaid, Selia, jealous of her?
- Are Selia's complaints fair?
- Why has Ani not noticed Selia's discontent before?
- Describe a time when you were jealous of someone or someone was jealous of you.
- How did jealousy affect your relationship?
How could you be more sensitive to people who might have less than you?
Selia says that there is no such thing as royal blood and that people are what they make of themselves.
- Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
How does it fit or not fit with what the Bible says?
How does Ani change her identity after she arrives in Bayern?
- In what ways does Ani grow as a person or become stronger because of the hardships she has to face in Bayern?
vHow have difficulties changed you for the better?
Do you think difficulties always change people in positive ways? Explain.
How are the forest dwellers of Bayern treated when they move to Bayern's city?
- What does Ani learn from her friend Enna about how the city people view the poor immigrants from the forest?
- What different types of students are in your school?
- How are different groups treated? How could you support others who are mistreated?
Alcohol: Ani tries a sip of ale, but does not like it.
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Readability Age Range
11 and up
Bloomsbury USA Childrens, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing
Josette Frank Award, 2004; ALA Teens' Top Ten, 2004