The Littlest Kitten Drinks Cows’ Milk

My toddler (AKA Little Baker) is enamoured by a small cardboard book called The Littlest Kitten. The book contains an orange finger puppet head for the main character, a kitten. The Littlest Kitten.

kitten1a

The Littlest Kitten; the biggest head.

I think the finger puppet head is the aspect that draws his interest. Also, the book is toddler-sized: perfect for tiny fingers. He likes to cuddle the book while breastfeeding, and he laughs when I animate the finger puppet. It is a very short book, only eight pages.

Despite its brevity, I have not read the book in its entirety to him. When I attempt to read it, Little Baker just keeps turning the pages, back and forth. He isn’t interested in the story at the moment.

This week, we were snuggled on the bed, and I was preparing to read it to him. He was turning the pages, back and forth. My daughter approached us: ‘Oh, I don’t like that book’, she announced. ‘I don’t now why he likes it so much’.

Naturally, a book that appeals to a toddler is unlikely to hold the interest of a 9 year old. Clearly, my daughter is not in the target age group* for this book, so I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t like it. But she seemed particularly passionate in her dislike.

What don’t you like about it? 

The floodgates opened:

‘It’s ridiculous’! she proclaimed. ‘It’s called the Littlest Kitten, but look at his head. It’s huge. He looks creepy’.

Just to drive home the point, she concluded with a dose of hyperbole: ‘It’s the creepiest kitten in history’!

Despite her distaste for the book about the ‘creepiest kitten in history’, she sat down with us as Little Baker and I flicked through the book.

I focused on pointing to the animals and naming them, while I read the text to myself.

I can now wholeheartedly assert that I’m not a big fan of the book either.

The reason? Page 4:

kitten2

The creepiest kitten in history drinks cows’ milk. That may explain the enlarged head!

‘The cow barn is our favorite place.

Sometimes I get milk on my face

“Drink your breakfast” Mom meows.

We love milk from happy cows’.

The mother cat implores her kittens to drink their breakfast – a bowl of cow’s milk.

This is ludicrous! Why are they drinking the milk of a cow, and not the milk of their own mother?

Cows’ milk – as a health beverage, and as a source of calcium – is so entrenched in our culture. Even the animals in our storybooks drink it.

Of course, the cow is a happy cow. She is happy that the kittens are drinking her milk. I suppose she is happy about her enslavement too.

Children are exposed to the myth of the ‘happy cow’ in storybooks, children’s TV shows, TV advertisements, and in the classroom. Cows are portrayed frequently as willing participants; benevolent givers of their milk. Calves are invisible in the happy cow narrative.

happycow

A ‘happy cow’

On a positive note, this book inspired a conversation with my daughter about the ‘happy cow’ myth. Specifically, cows aren’t happy about ‘giving’ their milk after all; they’d rather have their babies with them.

Furthermore, I do not normalise cows’ milk consumption to my children. When Little Baker is a little older, I will tell him that kittens drink their mother’s milk, and that cows make milk for their own babies.

I could get rid of the book by throwing it in the recycling bin (after decapitating the puppet head) or depositing it in a charity bin. But, Little Baker loves it. I don’t have the heart to make it disappear.

Besides, this type of book is a good educational tool. Parents can use the ‘non-vegan’ content to inspire discussion with their children about vegan values. We can promote empathy and compassion in our children by encouraging them to think about situations from the perspectives of the animal characters.

Also, we can talk to our children about biological norms – calves drink cows’ milk, human babies drink human milk, and kittens – even kittens with big heads – drink cats’ milk. 

***

* Oddly, the book’s back cover states: ‘Ages 5+’. Perhaps the puppet head is regarded as a choking hazard. The publisher is dreaming; the story is not engaging enough for kids aged 5 and over.

What is your child’s current favourite book? Does it promote vegan values?

Ally 

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About Ally
Mamma. Vegan. I blog at Made of Stars.

13 Responses to The Littlest Kitten Drinks Cows’ Milk

  1. uberdish says:

    Great question, Ally. Our girls are reading novels now. Bailey has just started, “The Hobbit”. I do recall a few years ago when I read “Charlotte’s Web” aloud – it sparked some good conversation! I also recall that “Kay” had a sleepless night worrying about all the poor farm animals. I bet one day when Little Baker hears or reads this book himself, it will no longer be his favourite.

  2. susykat says:

    “I could get rid of the book by throwing it in the recycling bin (after decapitating the puppet head)” – This absolutely cracked me up! 😉

  3. Andra Muhoberac says:

    It makes me wonder if this book was instigated by the dairy industry. Hmm… Dairy farmers are hurting now, both from sales being down to serious draught in some areas where cattle/cows are being raised.

    • Ally says:

      Yes, well we know what goes on in schools, so that would certainly be possible.
      The book cover states that there are 4 more books in the series – I wonder what the Littlest Puppy and the Littlest Turtle have for breakfast? 🙂
      I hope you are well Andra, and I always enjoy reading your comments.

  4. Sharon says:

    Great post. I worry a lot about these kinds of things. I feel like food choices are the easy part. It’s things like this book and singing songs about happy animals on farms where I start getting worried about the messages it’s sending. Do I censor it until she’s old enough to have conversations about it? At 1 year old am I totally overthinking it? Good to see others sharing their tactics!

    • Ally says:

      Good question, and something that vegan parents grapple with on a daily basis. I think part censorship, part education/discussion. I wouldn’t buy a book like this for my kids. But once they own it, I can use it as an educational tool.
      My pre-schoolers have always enjoyed attending children’s storytime at the library. Inevitably, one or more of the books contains something that is counter to vegan values, like fishing. One time, the librarian asked: who likes prawns? My son, 3 at the time, put up his hand because many of the other kids were. His older sister, 5, pulled his hand down super fast, and said: no you, don’t! We don’t eat prawns’. 🙂
      I took the approach of talking to them afterwards about the content of the books – the fishing, the prawns. But, I would never stop them going to storytime. The love of books that it promotes is really important, in my opinion.
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.
      I used to ‘over think’ things (not saying you are though, only you can know!) when my daughter was tiny. But, I can honestly say, that many of the things I feared have not panned out (…yet!).

  5. Starr says:

    My parents just cleared out their storage locker, so I brought home my childhood treasures that they had stashed for me, including numerous books. Now I’m curious, and am going to have to read through my beloved books again to see what kind of messages I was being exposed to… Somehow I doubt I’ll find they were vegan ones.

    • Ally says:

      Oh I’d be interest to hear about your favourite childhood books.

      I loved books about animals as a child. I wouldn’t have thought twice about a kitten drinking a bowl of cow’s milk. It wouldn’t have seemed odd at all.

  6. Brittany says:

    You make some very valid points here! WHY is the cat drinking cow milk and not it’s mothers?! I would have never even thought about that! Cow milk is disgusting to me..

  7. I don’t think I would have ditched the book either Ally. I think the way you’re using it as an educational tool will have a lasting impact on your kiddos. Fun little lessons are so important. Of course the fun lessons it’s giving other kids who don’t have you to counter the “milk” issue is just a shame. Celeste 🙂

    • Ally says:

      Thanks Celeste, I appreciate your thoughtful comment.
      Yes, the reality is, we encounter these types of scenarios commonly. I can’t censor everything! 😉 Nor would I want to.

      Talking to my kids, and assisting them to be thoughtful and kind is where I can focus my energy in a positive way.

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