The Adventures of Taxi Dog: Guest Post by Carolyn M. Mullin

With a portion of its proceeds benefiting the Fund for Animals, it’s hard not to love The Adventures of Taxi Dog by Debra and Sal Barracca. After having hailed a real life cabbie who kept his canine companion in the front seat during his shifts, the Barraccas were inspired to write a charming, rhyming tale of a New York City taxi cab driver, Jim, who rescues a street dog he later names Maxi. Teaming up with talented artist Mark Buehner, the picture book highlights the ever important issue of animal homelessness and shows how dogs need good food, a warm home and plenty of TLC. Kids will also get a taste for what metropolitan-living is like with scenic depictions of NYC.

While there are two non-veggie elements to the book (the pair split a hot dog and meet circus entertainers that have a performing chimpanzee), parents can tailor the book to meet their ethics. Perhaps Jim and Maxi found a veggie hot dog option at the stand? Maybe the circus clowns employed a fake chimpanzee? This could develop into a nice discussion about how no animal should be forced into the entertainment industry. Although it must be said that Maxi is a natural comedian.

P.S. – This is also a Reading Rainbow-endorsed book!

Ages 4-8.

About Carolyn: Carolyn M. Mullin is the founder of the National Animal Protection Museum (working title). She has worked extensively with youth as an education coordinator with Farm Sanctuary, an AmeriCorps reading tutor for K-3, and a camp counselor at a nature preserve for too many summers to count. Still a kid at heart, she can’t resist an enchanting children’s tale.

Gorilla

If your kiddo likes Good Night, Gorilla, I suggest you freecycle (or maybe just recycle) the zoo propaganda and pick up a secondhand copy of Anthony Browne‘s Gorilla instead.

This heartwarming picture book details the enchanted evening a little girl Hannah, somewhat neglected at home, experiences with her toy gorilla-turned-real.  What makes this book a keeper from my perspective is Hannah’s reaction to viewing primates — gorillas, an orangutan, and a chimpanzee — in the zoo.  Despite her joy at seeing these animals in person, she views them through cage bars and observes that they are “sad.”

The next morning, Hannah awakes to an attentive father who offers to do finally what she’s been asking him to do all along: bring her to the zoo.  Whether the pair goes is ambiguous.  I like to think that they spent a leisurely day in the park instead.

Ages 4-8.

Diary of a Worm: Guest Post by Jacqueline Bodnar

This book is cleverly set up as a diary that was written by a worm. It gives the reader an inside look at what it might be like to be a worm, and how the big world, and humans, appear from their perspective. The worm writes about things kids can relate to, such as doing homework, playing, good manners, and even going to the dentist.

It is a silly story that provides clean, fun entertainment. But the underlying message here is that even worms have feelings and should be respected. This book may help young vegetarian children to see how even the smallest of animals are interesting and deserving of compassion. There is one reference to fishing, in which the worm states that, as fishing season started, the worms all dug deeper in the dirt in order to hide.

If you are a vegetarian parent trying to teach your kids to have compassion for animals, “Diary of a Worm” is a big hit. This book will help children see that even the smallest animals have interests and thoughts of their own.

Ages 4-8.

About Jacqueline: Jacqueline Bodnar is a professional writer who blogs about vegetarian issues at VegBlogger.com. She and her husband have been ethical vegetarians since 1995 and are raising two vegetarian children. She is also a nature lover, environmentalist, and avid reader. Jacqueline is a Michigan native, who now resides in Florida, after spending almost a decade in Las Vegas.

Muppets from Space

I grew up watching  “The Muppet Show” weekly, so I rushed out to watch “Muppets from Space” when it was released in 1999.  (I think I saw it at the local drive-in.)  This New Year’s Eve, we decided to have a family movie marathon but forgot to prepare for it.  Rather than watch our old DVDs, we hooked a laptop to the TV and streamed this movie from one of the DVD-rental sites.

Set to funk music, this family flick follows Gonzo’s quest to figure out who he is and find his long-lost family — providing an opportunity for parents and veg kids to discuss what it’s like to be different.  A few of the snappy one-liners will also spark discussion, if you catch them.   Is it funny to call Miss Piggy “bacon,” you might ask.  And what does Gonzo mean when he jokes about his species going extinct?

The movie contains a few references to/ depictions of meat.  When the stove breaks, for example, the Muppets are served bologna for breakfast, a food that all but Rizzo (the rat) refuse.  Still, there’s nothing in this movie that’s offensive enough for me to forgo the sheer fun of watching it.

Rated G.  Ages 4-adult.

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon: Guest Post by Jennifer Gannett

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon is a tale of dragons and knights, meat eaters and vegetarians, and one brave child.  Herb spends his days quietly gardening in the company of a small girl.  The king, tired of the meat eating dragons (led by Meathook) gobbling up villagers, instructs his knights to capture all of the dragons they can and bring them to the village for beheading.  Meathook and the others wait out the hunt in hiding.   Herb, who is not friends with the other dragons, is captured while gardening.  Meathook pays Herb a visit in prison, telling him he will save him if he eats meat, but principled Herb refuses. The beheading is imminent when the little girl speaks up, informing the executioner and crowd that Herb isn’t a meat eater.  Herb is released while sneaky Meathook is caught.  The king tells the dragons that they must work out a plan to stop eating people, and Meathook and minions agree to stop eating villagers. Herb offers to teach them gardening.

The dichotomy of this book is that it contains casual messages of death while at the same time relying heavily on the vegetarians-as-pacifists stereotype.  Though this book is intended for kindergardeners to third graders, my son enjoyed this tale most as a two and three year old, and consequently we did a lot of editing as we were reading to make it more appropriate for him.

This book is a mixed bag. The vegetarian protagonist comes across as a social outcast for most of the story. The general tenor of the book is pleasantly silly if one gets around the pillaging dragons, the dragon hunt and the near-beheading of the sympathetic main character. The vivid illustrations, the brave girl speaking truth to power, Herb’s yummy garden and cooperative problem solving are the highlights of the story. There is also a message throughout of not forcing one’s eating habits on others, no matter what they may be.

Ages 4-8.

About Jennifer: Jennifer Gannett lives outside of New York City with her family.  A long-time environmentalist, in her free time she enjoys cooking and eating mouthwatering vegan fare and advocating for animals in need.

Tarra and Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends

Did you catch the CBS clip a while back about the elephant and the stray dog who became best friends?  Well, the lovely Carol Buckley, founder of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, has written a children’s book that features her photos of that unlikely pair of best buds.  The result is heartwarming.

Kiddo loves this book, and I do too.  It’s such a good story that I don’t mind reading it over and over again.  It also gives us a good opportunity to talk about why we don’t go to the circus or visit elephant exhibits at zoos.  I’m sure Tarra the elephant was adorable on roller skates during her performing days, but I’m even more certain that she’s far happier roaming a sanctuary with her friends.

Ages 4-8.

Tiger

Sherry Been and Cathy Morrison’s book gives kids a taste of natural history by telling them about a tiger’s life in the second person.  “If you were a tiger,” the book reads, “we would call you Great Swimmer.  You have strong muscles and you love the water….”

I think this approach is an effective way to get kids to consider what animals think, feel, and experience without resorting to anthropomorphism.  Still, I wish the author used the second person consistently throughout the book; occasionally she resorts to explaining about tigers without addressing the reader as a tiger.  Likewise, some illustrations are beautiful and polished, while others look like preliminary sketches.

Ages 4-8.