August 16, 2013 13 Comments
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.
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:
‘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.
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?