Books for children who love animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1993:

A Place for Grace, by Jean Davies Okimoto, illustrated by Doug
Keith. Sasquatch Books (1931 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98101), 1993, 36 pages,
hardcover $14.95.
The amazing Grace of this story is a small stray dog on the streets of San
Francisco, who aspires to become a guide dog, fails the height requirement, and becomes a
hearing dog instead with the aid of Charlie, an astute human. Children, who are always
finding themselves too small to do things, will readily identify with Grace and will love
Doug Keith’s gently funny illustrations. But A Place for Grace isn’t just a good dog story.
It’s also a quick introduction to the duties, requirements, and training of hearing dogs, who
usually are clever mongrels, and, somewhat as an afterthought, to the world of the deaf.
If A Place for Grace has a fault, it’s that it presumes too much prior knowledge of deaf cul-
ture on the part of the very young readers. “Signing” pops up with no explanation of what it
is, although the sign alphabet appears on the cover liner, and there is relatively little discus-
sion of the difficulties of functioning in mechanized society without hearing. Fortunately,
many children will infer the essentials from the art. A must for school libraries!

Animal Rights, by Charles Patterson. Enslow Publishers (Bloy Street &
Ramsey Ave., Box 177, Hillside, NJ 07205-0777), 1993, 104 pages, hardcover
$17.95. [ISBN 0-89490-468-X]
Aimed at junior high school level readers, Charles Patterson’s Animal Rights pro-
vides a succinct resume of the leading animal rights issues and the post-1975 history of the
animal rights movement. While the overview is reasonably trustworthy, including sum-
maries of the opposition arguments in response to various animal rights concerns, Patterson
repeatedly errs in detail through excessive reliance upon animal rights literature for his fac-
tual documentation, particularly materials provided by People for the Ethical Treatment of
Animals, which contain many of the same exagerations and distortions. For instance,
Patterson approximately doubles the number of Americans killed each year in hunting acci-
dents, the number of dogs used in laboratory research, and the number of animals eutha-
nized each year in pounds and shelters. He also multiplies the number of animals killed in
furbearer traps tenfold. In each case, the numbers he uses are at least a decade out of date.
Further, Patterson garbles his description of the dairy and veal industries by asserting that
all surplus male calves go to vealers, a description purportedly verified by Gene Bauston of
Farm Sanctuary. As almost any farm child knows and the commodities price listings in
daily newspapers indirectly verify, most dairy cattle are cross-bred with Herefords and
other “meat” breeds to produce offspring, both male and female, who will be raised for
slaughter in fields and feedlots just like any other “beef” animal. Their lifespan, on average,
will be two to three years. Only a relatively small percentage, virtually all of them male
calves from “pure” dairy breeds, end up spending four-month lives in veal crates. Young
forensic debaters who use Animal Rights as a resource will be discredited and humiliated
by well-informed opponents, no matter how flimsy the opponents’ own positions.
The Chicken Gave It To Me, by Anne Fine, illustrated by Cynthia
Fisher. Little, Brown and Co. (34 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108-1493), 77 pages,
hardcover $12.95.
Disturbed by Nazi oppression of minorities, Franz Kafka in 1937 wrote a memo-
rable novella, Metamorphosis, about a fellow who went to bed a human, woke up as a giant
cockroach, and suffered ostracism and abuse as the inescapable consequence. Thirty years
ago, student literary magazines were stuffed with variants in which white people woke up
black. Now Anne Fine crosses the role reversal theme with the Korean War-vintage joke in
which a fortune cookie contains a note reading, “Help! I’m a prisoner in a Chinese fortune
cookie factory.” The theme here, though, is neither racism nor the plight of pilots reported
missing in action, but rather speciesism, and in particular the treatment of chickens on fac-
tory farms. A literate chicken who’s been sprung from battery caging by people-eating little
green men from outer space crusades on behalf of humans, while persuading two children to
become vegetarian animal rights crusaders. Unfortunately, the potentially comic aspects are
lost in heavy-handed, tedious, and ultimately boring polemic. And why did Fine name her
heroine “Gemma,” the name many children and children’s books use for “Grandma”?
Confusion in the opening pages is an ominous portent of things to come. Ultimately,
Metamorphosis is a stronger statement on behalf of both animals and people, and has a bet-
ter chance of making it to student reading lists.
––Merritt Clifton
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