Book Review: Sprig the Rescue Pig by Leslie Crawford & Sonja Stangl (2018)

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Because bacon had a mom.

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review from the publisher.)

Sometimes you know things, even if you don’t have words for them.

So even though he didn’t have the words, our words, this is what Pig knew on that blazingly hot day as he sped along a country road in a truck jam-packed with lots of other unhappy pigs, most of them bigger than he was.

Pig knew that this was no life for a pig.

Like all pigs, Pig – the narrator of this story – is smart. And scared, as well he should be.

Born, raised, and destined to die on a pig farm, surrounded by hundreds of his brothers and sisters, Pig knows that his situation is dire. Pig and his friends are packed so tightly into their home that there’s hardly room to turn around, let alone cool off in a nice refreshing mudbath. Fear taints the air. And then, one fateful day, they are forced into a box on wheels.

When the truck that’s taking him to certain death gets into a traffic accident, Pig makes a break for it. Luckily, he finds a forest nearby – and a peanut butter sammie. On the other end is a kind young girl named Rory.

Lucky for them both, Rory’s mom is awesome as heck (and quite possibly a vegan. A girl can dream!) They take Pig – now renamed Sprig – home and welcome him into the family. But it soon becomes obvious that a suburban backyard isn’t the ideal environment for a pig, and so Rory is faced with a difficult choice.

Spoiler alert: You will ugly cry until your eyes are no longer capable of producing tears.

Sprig the Rescue Pig is the flagship in a series of children’s books about farmed animals by Leslie Crawford and illustrator Sonja Stangl. My first experience with the series was its successor, Gwen the Rescue Hen, which I absolutely adored. You don’t find many children’s books that are truly animal- and vegan-friendly, and so I kept waiting for the catch: maybe we see Mateo snacking on a hamburger, or meet his purchased-from-a-breeder pet dachshund. But nope: this cranky killjoy vegan found not a single point with which to quibble. Gwen the Rescue Hen was a pure delight, through and through.

And so it is with Sprig the Rescue Pig. Like Gwen, Sprig is loosely based on a true story: of a pig who saved himself and wound up at an animal sanctuary. (I thought I remembered the incident in question, and so went Googling for it – and found a whole slew of such stories. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that farmed animals gladly sacrifice themselves to feed us. Just like humans, animals want to live – and there are plenty of stories of nonhuman resistance to prove it.) The art is exquisite and the story heartwarming. Sprig is perfect for kids of all ages, and those of us who are just kids at heart (or long to be).

As much as I loved Gwen, I think I enjoyed Sprig even more: the ending is sad and bittersweet, and perhaps more realistic too. The most joyous of tales are still sometimes tinged with sorrow – and sometimes, the kindest thing you can do for someone you love is let them go. (Incidentally, this message also makes Sprig ideal for helping children cope with the loss of a companion animal. I recently had to say goodbye to one of my besties and Sprig’s farewell frolic conjured up images of the Rainbow Bridge. SO MANY FEELINGS!)

Honestly, these books are awesome and radical and filled with hope, and couldn’t have come into my life (and the world) at a better time. I can’t wait to see which species of nonhuman animal Leslie Crawford and Sonja Stangl breathe life into next!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Gwen the Rescue Hen by Leslie Crawford & Sonja Stangl (2018)

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Enjoy with a plate of scrambled tofu!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley.)

“Come on, Gwen,” says Mateo, as he helps settle her onto the handlebars. Let’s hit it! she thinks. Let’s fly.

Hen is suffering a pretty miserable existence when a natural disaster proves her salvation. Imprisoned in a battery cage and exploited as a laying hen, Hen shares a tiny cage with half a dozen or so of her sisters. Everywhere Hen looks, she sees rows upon rows and stacks upon stacks of hens. Hen’s only freedom – her only escape from the chaos and filth of her prison – is in her dreams.

That is, until the day a tornado lifts Hen’s cage from the giant, industrial shed in which it’s housed and deposits Hen and her companions in a beautiful green field. The girls scatter, but not before a boy and his friends spot Hen. After a tense stand-off and a few close calls, Hen learns to trust the human boy called Mateo. Newly christened Gwen, Hen and the Boy become best friends, enjoying swims in the river (or, in Hen’s case, dust baths on the shore), roosting/reading marathons, and social calls.

Based on the destruction of an egg farm in Croton, Ohio, Gwen the Rescue Hen is a sweet and beautiful tale of friendship – and compassion. Gentle enough for young readers (Hen’s time as a cog in the machine of animal ag is indeed morose – as emphasized by the black and white palette – but handled with care, and with the more horrifying details omitted), the story is also educational, with plenty of facts about chickens sprinkled throughout. By giving a name to a bird – one of five billion such animals living in American battery cages at any given time – the authors affirm Gwen’s personhood: she is a someone, not a something. This shouldn’t be a novelty, and yet.

Gwen the Rescue Hen is a wonderful choice for vegan families, or for any parent or guardian wishing to instill a sense of compassion in their young children. And the artwork is super-adorable too!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

Book Review: Shelter Dogs in a Photo Booth, Guinnevere Shuster (2016)

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Epic Photos for an Awesome Cause

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ebook for review through NetGalley.)

Every year, approximately 7.6 million companion animals enter U.S. shelters; of these, 3.9 million are dogs. Roughly 35% are adopted, while another 26% are reunited with their families. The remaining 26% are killed, usually for lack of homes.* This translates to a staggering 1.2 million dogs (not to mention 1.4 million cats) per year.**

Given the overwhelming scope of the problem, animal shelters and welfare groups have gotten pretty darn creative in their rescue efforts – aimed at both placing animals in homes, as well as preventing them from entering the system to begin with. For example, some groups offer grants to low-income pet owners who are facing unexpected veterinary bills. Others provide free or low-cost checkups and spay/neuter services to those in need.

Nonprofits that focus on humans have gotten into the act as well. With an increasing awareness of the link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence comes programs that cater to both human and nonhuman victims. For instance, domestic violence shelters are starting to open their doors to the companion animals of their human clients, as a sizable percentage survivors refuse to leave their furry friends behind.

(I volunteer as a foster home for one of two such groups in the Kansas City area, and it’s extremely rewarding. In particular, I find it easier to foster dogs who already have homes. Don’t get me wrong, I still fall in love with them, but at least I know I have to give them back. Otherwise I’m likely to adopt myself out of fostering in no time flat. Anyway, I cannot recommend it enough.)

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Book Review: Strays: A Novel, Jennifer Caloyeras (2015)

Friday, June 5th, 2015

Team Roman

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

I wondered if the dogs were thinking the same thing about us – that we were all a bunch of strays.

[E]tched on the inside of the collar, where no one else could see, were the words I am loved.

Sixteen-year-old Iris Moody is what you might call a “troubled” kid. After her mother was killed by a drunk driver, her father beat a hasty retreat from Los Angeles, packing them up and relocating to a smaller, unfamiliar place in Santa Cruz – all without consulting Iris. Two years on and she still hasn’t quite come to grips with her mother’s death and her new surroundings. Dad is unhelpful at best, consumed as he is with his new job at a juice company; he seems completely oblivious to Iris’s feelings, including her mounting anger management issues.

When Iris is arrested (in a true “well that escalated quickly” moment) for making death threats and assaulting her English teacher during final exams, she’s sentenced to six weeks of community service and mandatory therapy – along with summer school, of course. Her court-appointed lawyer thinks he’s doing Iris a favor when he scores her a coveted volunteer spot, working with rescue dogs at Ruff Rehabilitation. The only problem is, Iris inherited her mother’s fear of dogs.

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Book Review: The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances, Ellen Cooney (2014)

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Sweet, But Sometimes Problematic

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free ARC for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

Evie. Female. Twenty-four. Petite in stature and preppy in appearance – yet surprisingly strong and resilient. Has low self esteem and abandonment issues due to a divorce in the home. Graduated from college with a degree in literature and an addiction to cocaine; dropped out of graduate school. Neat, organized, and motivated to learn. Can be a self-starter, if given the opportunity. Sometimes too quick to give up. Needs guidance and a sense of belonging.

Lucille. Female. Fifty. Divorced. Will only answer to “Mrs. Auberchon.” Prim, prickly, and slow to disclose personal information (or any information). Does not make friends easily, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of loneliness and alienation. When given a job, will take to it fastidiously. Needs a purpose and a nice, cozy role to retire into. Potentially aggressive, occasionally paranoid. Anxiety meds should be considered.

Like so many strays before her – both human and canine – Evie is adrift when she arrives at the Sanctuary. Fresh out of rehab (a little too fresh, some might say), Evie is searching for direction, guidance – a new purpose in life. Though she’s never been interested in dogs – never even been owned by a dog, in point o’ facts – she impulsively answers a dog training ad she spotted while browsing classifieds on the internet. (“Would you like to become a dog ?”) With a little finagling and fudging of the truth, her application is accepted – Evie is headed to the mountaintop school for dogs!

Upon Evie’s arrival, she’s temporarily waylaid at the inn at the base of the mountain. It’s here that her training begins – Evie just doesn’t know it yet. One by one she’s introduced to her future students: Josie, a nippy little lady who lost her longtime home to the new baby. Shadow, who spent most of his life on the end of the chain and is now training (somewhat unsuccessfully) to be a search and rescue dog. Hank, who doesn’t take kindly to wooden objects and can’t stop obsessively pacing back and forth, back and forth. Tasha, a chronically depressed and anxious Rottweiler who was dumped from a car.

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Book Review: We Animals, Jo-Anne McArthur (2013)

Monday, February 17th, 2014

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“It will change the world, for the better, for us all.”

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free pdf copy of this book for review.)

“What you see on these pages may surprise or disturb you. My aim is not to turn you away but to draw you in, bring you closer, make you a participant. I want my photographs to be beautiful and evocative as well as truthful and compelling. I hope you’ll take the time not just to look but to see — if only as a mark of respect for the billions of animals whose lives and deaths we don’t notice. To look at this book is to bear witness with me, which means also that we confront cruelty and our complicity in it. As a species, we have to learn new behaviours and attitudes and unlearn the old ones.” (page 9)

Photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur has spent the last decade and a half traveling the world – both on her own and in the company of animal activists – documenting our complicated relationships with nonhuman animals. Relationships that so often boil down to objectification, exploitation, and consumption. If you’ve been involved with animal advocacy for any length of time, no doubt you’re familiar with some of McArthur’s images. She’s photographed open rescues conducted by Animal Equality; documented the affecting actions of Toronto Pig Save; and set sail with the crew of the Sea Shepherd. McArthur bears witness through the lens of her camera, exposing atrocities that many of us would prefer remain invisible.

Recently featured in Liz Marshall’s The Ghosts In Our Machine, We Animals features 100 of McArthur’s photos – some taken for the film, others on behalf of various animal advocacy organizations, and the rest during the artist’s travels. The result is a stunning portfolio that’s as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. From the Calgary Stampede to the Tam Dao Bear Sanctuary in Vietnam, McArthur brings us examples of unimaginable cruelty – and selfless compassion.

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Book Review: Invincible Summer: An Anthology, Volume 1, Nicole Georges (2007)

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Like peeking inside a stranger’s diary…

three out of five stars

I first became acquainted with Nicole Georges’s charming and whimsical artwork through Bitch magazine, to which Georges is (was?) a “friend and contributor.” Her annual Invincible Summer calendars (available on etsy) are simply adorable, brimming as they are with nonhuman animals both familiar (dogs, pigs, chickens) and unusual (sloths, whales, and – yes! – unicorns!). Her two Invincible Summer zine anthologies have been on my wishlist for years, and Christmas 2013 was the year that Volume 1 finally found its way under my tree. It had the distinction (however dubious) of being my first read of the new year!

Invincible Summer: An Anthology is like peeking inside a stranger’s diary. (Indeed, Georges refers to her zines as “Diaryland.”) Georges explores her life in Portland from the spring of 2001 through the summer of 2004-ish, with some sketches from the 2006 calendar thrown in for good measure. (Though it’s missing April and May! *frowny face*) Entries range from the mundane (daily chores, to-do lists, recipes; chickpea meatballs, must try!) to the less so (apparent PTSD in the wake of a car crash; “on car accidents” is especially haunting).

In particular, I was able to relate to the loneliness and alienation Georges felt after moving to a strange new city, as well as her outlandish dreams (most of them dental in nature), and vestigial tail obsession. Plus you have to love a zine that’s heavy on the animals: Georges’s dogs Beija (whom she describes as her “life partner”) and Penny make frequent appearances, and she also spends a month interning at Farm Sanctuary in California and later takes a summer-long job there. Through this, Georges addresses the horrors of animal agriculture, including egg production and animal auctions.

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The Lucky Ones by Woodstock FAS Founder Jenny Brown: Review & Giveaway!

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Update, July 1, 2013:

& the winner is (*drumroll please*) #8, Kenney!

Check your email to claim your prize!

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In anticipation of the upcoming July 2nd paperback release, Penguin generously provided me with two copies of The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals, written by Woodstock FAS founder Jenny Brown and fellow vegan Gretchen Primack – one to review, and one to give away!

To enter to win a copy for your very own self, simply answer this question in the comments: if you could visit Woodstock tomorrow, which of the residents – human or non – would you most like to meet? (Hint: there’s a partial list available on Woodstock’s website.) Or just tell me why you need this book! I’m not fussy.

For a second entry, tweet this message and leave a second comment telling me you did so.

THE LUCKY ONES by @WoodstockFarm Founder Jenny Brown: #Review & #Giveaway! Enter to #win your own copy here: http://bit.ly/12PyHx8 #vegan

The contest is open now through Monday, July 1st at tPM CDT. I’ll randomly choose and contact a winner shortly thereafter. The winner will have 72 hours to respond, after which time I’ll choose someone else. Please leave an email address in the form when commenting (don’t worry, it’s private!) so we can get in touch. I’ll ship the book anywhere in the United States and Canada.

Good luck, and happy reading!

 

A Five-Hankie Review

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review at the publisher’s invitation.)

“I often envision a giant protective bubble over our property, and inside it a place where everything is right in the world, the way we want it to be. Animals roam free, living happy and peaceful lives the way they should. They are free to be themselves, among friends and, in some cases, family. There is no fear of harm, no want for food or water, warmth or shelter. They have everything they need. They are loved, and treated with respect and compassion, until their dying moments in our arms, when they are wet from our tears. We coexist with them, never considering ourselves superior or their ‘owners.’ We don’t use them as commodities or exploit them in any way. They are our friends. Beloved friends. They owe us nothing. But what they do give, unconsciously, is the greatest asset to our work. They are ambassadors for all others like them, showing humans that other animals are not mere automatons.” (pp. 223-224)

As a teenager slinging burgers at the Doublemeat Palace in Sunnydale – errr, serving burgers at a Louisville McDonald’s; sorry, I got my superheroes confused for a second there! – Jenny Brown never imagined that she’d one day devote her life to rescuing the very animals she enjoyed sandwiched between two slices of bread – let alone give up a promising career in film to do so.

Along with her husband, film editor Doug Abel, Brown founded Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in 2004; their wedding ceremony served as the nonprofit’s inaugural fundraiser. Located just outside of Woodstock, New York, in the neighboring town of Willow, Woodstock FAS is home to over 200 rescued “farm” animals, including runaway cow Kayli, who literally escaped death in a New York City “live kill” market when she bolted for it through the city streets; the infamous goat Albie who, like his guardian, sports one “fake” leg; and Petunia, a “Thanksgiving” turkey purchased as a gag. They are the lucky ones – a precious few of the ten billion animals enslaved and slaughtered for meat, dairy, and eggs every year in the United States alone (not counting fishes and associated “bycatch”) who are fortunate enough to find sanctuary with human allies.

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