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Book it for Animals!

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by Scottie Robinson, Youth Services Librarian, Lee Public Library

Don't miss the list of wonderful book titles, sorted by age appropriateness at the bottom of this post! 

One of the great pleasures of being a Youth Services Librarian is reading book reviews and ordering books for preschool through high school aged children. I love building and reworking an ongoing collection. Non-fiction especially needs scrutinizing so as to keep up to date with change, discoveries and trends in the fields of science, the social sciences and technology. It’s thrilling to see books released for children on 3D printing, robotics, organic gardening and yoga. Many are excellent titles, written creatively and accompanied by wonderful visuals. Like many folks, and especially children, I am an animal lover. So the non-fiction and fiction titles that really leap off the page for me in the professional journals and publishers’ catalogues are the ones about animals, particularly those books about at-risk and endangered ones and the conservation efforts underway to help them.

A title that impacted me recently is Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears by Jill Robinson and Marc Bekoff. Prior to reading this beautiful picture book, I was unaware that for decades, as many as 20,000 moon bears have been caged on 100 domestic farms across Asia for the purpose of extracting bile from their gall bladders. Bile is used in traditional Asian medicine despite the availability of many herbal and synthetic alternatives. It is widely thought to shrink gallstones, reduce fever, improve eyesight and reduce the after effects of excessive alcohol consumption. The lives of the bears are unspeakably miserable. Bile extraction is extremely painful often creating life threatening infections. Many of the bears have missing paws and limbs as well as teeth from gnawing on the cage bars. The cages are so small that there is no room to sit or stand.

After visiting and witnessing the horror of a Chinese bear farm in 1993, Ms. Robinson exposed the plight of the endangered moon bear. In 1998, she established the Animal Asia Foundation which has created four sanctuaries for these moon bears in China and Vietnam. To date, about 400 bears have been rescued from bear farms, Jasper being one of them. Due to the wonderful care that he has received, Jasper has learned to trust again despite being caged for 15 years and warmly welcomes other bears upon arrival at the sanctuary.

Marc Bekoff, former professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado and one of the world’s leading animal experts, states that when it comes to “what we can and cannot do to animals, it’s their emotions that should inform our discussions and our actions on their behalf”.(1) In his books, TheEmotional Lives of Animals andAnimals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals With Compassion and Respect, Bekoff cites numerous studies which show that many and diverse animals have rich emotional lives. Rats feel joy, elephants experience grief and mice can feel empathy. Data also shows that birds and fish experience emotion. Renowned primatologist Jane Goodall has said, “The more we learn of the true nature of non-human animals, especially those with complex brains and corresponding complex social behavior, the more ethical concerns are raised regarding their use in the service of man – whether this be in entertainment, as “pets”, for food, in research laboratories, or any of the other uses to which we subject them.”(2)

So how does one grow up to be an individual who chooses to be kind rather than cruel to an animal? What can parents, caretakers and educators do to cultivate in children a respect for animals? How does one instill in a child the understanding that we as a species share this planet with other species and that we are no better and no worse? That because humans are equipped with larger cognitive powers, we can make choices that impact the quality of life, even life itself, for a cat, a turtle, a bear, an elephant. And that we have a responsibility to take seriously the making of these choices.

Modeling respect for other human beings is essential. Statistics show that 30% of children who have witnessed domestic violence perpetuate similar violence against their pets. (3) Modeling respect for animals in the home and in the wild is also paramount. Handling a new kitten gently or talking about a spider’s ability to weave a web are simple endeavors that go a long way to laying the foundation for developing a life-long respect for animals. When age appropriate, generating discussion on topics such as trapping animals for the fashion fur industry, the poaching of protected species, the comfort level of a caged tiger at a small roadside zoo and vegetarianism helps children to begin the process of defining their own beliefs and what their choices will be. The NHSPCA offer's wonderful summer camps in addition to year round education and volunteer programs for children.

And then there are books! We all know the benefits of knowing how to read. And whether a child is reading or being read to, the experience can be transformative. Whether it be fiction or nonfiction, the power of story is often evident on the faces of the children in my afterschool Storytrekkers program. Riveted, they inch closer and closer, drawn into a world that in some very personal way resonates deeply with who they are and who they want to be. Let’s make books promoting animal conservation and protection available to kids of all ages and help to create a world where ALL sentient beings are valued and respected!

There are many wonderful titles but here are some that really stand out.

PRESCHOOL – GRADE 4; Picture Books

Tails Are Not for Pulling! Elizabeth Verdick; Board book for toddlers teaches the proper way to interact with pets.

Each Living Thing; Joanne Ryder; Children are encouraged to be respectful as they view an assortment of animals in their natural environment.

A Fairy Went A Marketing; Rose Fyleman; A fairy buys, holds captive and then releases a fish, a bird and a mouse.

Melvin and the Boy; Lauren Castillo; A young boy releases a wild turtle that he has taken home after observing that it seems unhappy.

Max Talks To Me; Claire Buchwald; By carefully listening to and observing his dog and treating him with kindness, Alex and Max become true friends.

Nico and Lola; Megan Hill; Preschooler Nico learns ways to show kindness while caring for his aunt’s dog, Lola.

The Forgotten Rabbit; Nancy Furst; With proper care, a neglected Easter rabbit becomes a beloved family companion.

Hens for Friends; Sandy DeLisle; Aaron learns how to care compassionately for hens that his family adopts from a chicken rescue center.

A Home for Dakota; Jan Zita Grover; Dakota is rescued from the horrible conditions of a puppy mill breeding operation.

The Cats On My Block; Valerie Sicignana; Luke and Willow learn about feral cats, how some are cared for and the importance of neutering and spaying.

Call the Horse Lucky; Juanita Havill; Mel learns about horse care after discovering a neglected horse and initiating its transport to a rescue ranch.

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life With Chimps; Jeanette Winter; The story of the primatologist’s work with chimpanzees.

Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears; Jill Robinson and Marc Bekoff; A moon bear named Jasper is rescued from the bile industry in Asia.

Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla; Katherine Applegate; A gorilla caged for more than twenty years is helped to find a better life.

Tarra and Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Friends; Carol Buckley andOwen and Mzee: The True Story of A Remarkable Friendship; Craig Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, Paul Kahumba; Animals of different species show kindness to one another and form close bonds.

A Passion for Elephants; Toni Buzzeo; The story of animal researcher and elephant advocate Cynthia Moss

Doyli to the Rescue; Cathleen Burnham; 10 year old Doyli helps rescue endangered and orphaned monkeys in the Amazon rainforest.

Olivia’s Birds: Saving the Gulf; Olivia Bowler; 11 year old Olivia Bowler celebrates her efforts to save the birds affected by the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

The Eye of the Whale: A Rescue Story; Jennifer O’Connell; The Marine Mammal Center in California rescues a whale tangled in trap lines.

Maggie’s Second Chance; Nancy Furstinger; Based on a true story, 4th graders rescue a dog from euthanization and help to start an animal shelter.

That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals; Ruby Roth; Life for animals living in their natural state is compared to that of those living in the terrible conditions of factory farms.

GRADES 2-6; Early Readers and Chapter Books

ASPCA Rescue Readers Early Reader series; Stories are told from the point of view of a newly adopted pet.

ASPCA Pet Rescue Club series; Animal loving 4th graders start a club to help animals

Shelter Pet Squad series; Cynthia Lord; The Shelter Pet Squad kids find homes for animals in need.

Legend of Animal Healer series; Lauren St. John; Martine discovers her gift for healing animals after moving to her grandmother’s wildlife game preserve in Africa.

Moon Bear; Gill Lewis; Against all odds, 12 year old Tam saves a moon bear caged for the bile industry in Asia.

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