- Recent Books about Relationships between Humans and Animals
Since the 1970s, when concern about the inhumane treatment of animals was growing, children’s books dealing with animals have tended to focus more on animal protection and animal rights.1 Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, which advocates the pursuit of happiness by both human and non-human animals, has exerted an influence on children’s books since its publication in 1975. Yet unlike classics such as Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, a novel that reflects the sentimental aspects of Victorian-era movements to prevent cruelty to animals, Canadian children’s books published more recently do not present their moralistic side as directly. The books I have chosen to review deal with relationships between human and non-human animals, and some of them engage contemporary perspectives on animal rights. These texts [End Page 163] can be divided roughly into three groups: picture books dealing with evolution, books in which non-human animals are symbols of human thought or emotion, and novels with anthropoids playing important roles in human society. The authors of the texts under review regard non-human animals as either symbolic or living, breathing, sentient beings, lending credence to Greg Garrard’s thesis that “[t]he study of the relations between animals and humans in the Humanities is split between philosophical consideration of animal rights and cultural analysis of the representation of animals” (136). Although the books I examine in this review are not scholarly, they too manifest a split between simply depicting animals and reflecting on the larger implications of treating them—and, indeed, representing them—as members of inferior species or in anthropomorphic fashion as “little people.”
Picture Books Dealing with Evolution
Learning about evolution or the birth and development of living things, including humans, is a good way for young people to start thinking about the relationship between human and non-human animals. A picture book is a useful form, moreover, through which to teach children about evolution. This is largely because the picture book can convey complicated ideas or explanations visually. In the last decade, most picture books about evolution were more like matter-of-fact textbooks. Picture books published more recently reveal some new trends.
Sandro Natalini’s What Came First? is a beautifully illustrated book with a playful spirit. It starts with a set of humorous questions: “What came first? The chicken? The egg?” The first half of the book describes the birth of life on earth and provides a brief introduction to various ancient and contemporary creatures. The highlight of this book is the folding pages in the middle. These folding pages have no text, and the illustrations, featuring ancient and modern creatures such as jellyfish, huge squid, dinosaurs, mammoths, and bears, are arranged in roughly chronological order. Apparently, readers are supposed to make sense of these illustrations by reading the words that are crammed into the two pages following the folding pages explaining how creatures evolved from 543 million years ago to the present.
The second half of the book focuses on the...