Ee I Ee I Nope
Jennifer Dutton shares her tips for normalising vegan values in your child’s bookshelf.
Zoos and aquariums, circuses and pet shops. Animal farms and fishing trips, hunters and cowboys. Concepts packaged up so sweetly, adventures so cutesy, stories rhyming and fun.
Many children’s books are a celebration of carnism, entrenching a way of life we aren’t down with anymore. Considering the contents of some popular first stories, it’s no wonder I grew up desensitised to the plight of animals. Mail me an elephant please, Dear Zoo. Oh, he’s too big? Ha, well shove him back in the crate and return to sender then. And send me another! If only Old McDonald had an oat farm or ran a farm sanctuary.
If your veganism includes ethics, so many of these storylines fly in the face of plant-powered messaging. Providing my little ones with a selection of reading materials requires being a little more, well, selective. What’s the vegan analogy for a drafting gate? Separate the wheat from the chaff.
Our two-pronged strategy is to avoid the nope books and include the yup books. We don’t buy or check out from the library books that run counter to our greenie brainwashing. Any books kindly gifted get a sneaky parse before slotting into our children’s shelves. Bless those folks who include exchange cards ‘just in case we have it’. We are also very lucky to have a treasured cousin who sends beautiful vegan books to our children. Be that aunt for someone else.
Like choosing anything for your family, there’s a filter of parenting preference for the tone of books that sit right with your heart. We have a range of vegan kids’ books spanning overt frankness to very indirect. Some favourites Miss Four chooses, again and again, like We All Love by Julie Hausen. This sweet and simple story compares human experiences, like having friends, feeling happiness, and eating food, to animals having those experiences. One of the closing lines is “animals are a lot like us, so we don’t treat them like food”.
Animal Rescue by Patrick George is another winner. There’s no actual printed story, which is a fun twist. Instead, the clever illustrations show animals in unhappy, then happy situations. Their fate is changed by the reader’s flip of a transparent page. Orcas trapped in a sea park tank are liberated to swim free in the ocean with whale friends, for example. The open-ended nature of the book encourages a tell-your-own-tale approach or acts as a conversation prompt, as introductory or as in-depth as suits.
Julia Barcalow’s That’s Not My Momma’s Milk is a hit in our home. Aimed at babies and younger toddlers with repetitive language, it introduces a variety of animals nursing their young. It elegantly conveys how a mother’s milk is meant for her baby, no matter the species.
As well as deliberately seeking out veg-friendly stories to sprinkle into our children’s diverse book collections, we use some artistic license when reading aloud. It’s handy that many food items can be veganised with language tweaks, or by commenting on the illustrations. All ice creams are suddenly dairy-free, the hungry caterpillar ate through one veggie sausage and all glasses of white liquid are soy milk. Huzzah!
In our explorations of various veg books, it’s been nice to discover some delightfully subtle stories that are suitable for gifting to any omnivore household, without stepping on toes. These include Kissed By the Moon by Alison Lester for babies and Remembering Mother Nature by Stuart French for toddlers and younger children. Kat Quin’s Kuwi’s Huhu Hunt is great for vegetarian (or vegan) households. While we are very passionate about the vegan messaging in our home, I feel it’d be an inconsiderate faux pas to push stories with overt veg agendas onto another household if they don’t share the same party line. After all, I don’t want to be the recipient of books centred around farming animals, so that consideration should cut both ways.
As time marches on, I know our little ones will see more of the harsh ways of the world. Shielding my kids from fishing storybooks doesn’t immediately make the act of fishing any less popular. But representation matters, and I like knowing our little his and her bookshelves are a microcosm of the world we are fostering for them. In the words of author Julie Hausen, “We treat animals the way we want to be treated, with love and kindness”.
The articles we present in our magazine and blog have been written by many authors and are are not necessarily the views and policies of the Vegan Society.
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