Mireille Messier is the author of the new children's picture book Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War. Her many other books include Fatima and the Clementine Thieves and The Branch. She is based in Toronto.
Q: How did you first learn about Sergeant Billy and his role in World War I?
A: I first read about Sergeant Billy in a tiny tidbit article in a magazine called Mental Floss. The title was "5 Goats That Changed the World." Sergeant Billy was one of the five goats.
At first, I thought it was strange that I had never heard about this Canadian war mascot. Then I thought, "There MUST already be a book about Sergeant Billy." When I realized there were no books I jumped at the chance to be the one to tell his extraordinary story.
Q: What kind of research did you do to write the book?
A: Both the illustrator and I had to do A LOT of research for this book. It wasn't easy because the events took place over 100 years ago.
My main resources were the Canadian War Museum archives, the Veterans Affairs, and the Broadview Saskatchewan Historical Museum where Sergeant Billy is kept to this day (yes, Sergeant Billy has been taxidermied).
Q: What do you think Kass Reich's illustrations add to the book?
A: Kass' sepia-toned illustrations set the mood perfectly for this story. Her rendition of Billy, Daisy, and the soldiers of the 5th Battalion are both heart-warming and historically accurate. I think Kass' illustrations make the story accessible to a wide audience - children, history buffs and animal-lovers alike.
Q: What do you hope kids take away from Sergeant Billy?
A: I hope the readers will learn that service animal and military mascots like Billy played an important role in history. I also hope that this story will remind them of how strong the bond between humans and animals can be, even in wartime.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am presently working on another animal biography but this time the story takes place in Vienna over 200 years ago. I can't say much more except that it is about one of the world's most loved musician with one of the world's most despised birds...
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: The French version of Sergeant Billy will be available in Spring 2020.
I will be presenting Sergeant Billy at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on Nov. 7 at the Youth Remembrance Day Event (all are welcome, admission is free).
--Interview with Deborah Kalb