While kids are naturally caring, especially when it comes to animals, nurturing and encouraging this compassion is important. According to the National PTA Congress, “Children trained to extend justice, kindness, and mercy to animals become more just, kind, and considerate in their relations to each other.” Not to mention, studies have shown that kids who grow up loving and caring for a pet are more sociable and compassionate overall. The benefits teaching kids to care for the animals around them are truly endless, but sometimes it can be difficult to explain the complex relationships that we share with the animal kingdom.
As animal lovers and Green Monsters, we know that there is much more to being compassionate towards animals than simply liking animals. In today’s day and age, we’re faced with the very serious issues of species extinction, animal abuse, animal agriculture, captivity and countless other less than harmonious ways that humans interact with animals. But trying to explain these nuances to a little kid isn’t exactly easy. Children, after all, are much smarter than we give them credit for, but there is a delicate line we have to walk as their educators and caretakers.
Luckily, there is a rather simple way to help teach kids about these serious topics that is both fun and educational: Story time!
Perhaps one of the best ways to get kids to learn to love and respect animals is by reading them stories. After all, what better way to learn about wild elephants and farm animals than through the adventures of fictional characters! Stories have been used for teaching timeless life lessons since the very beginning of human civilization, so why not pass on the tradition with some of these 10 awesome books.
1. 5 Elephants
5 Elephants is a great story that can help teach children compassion for elephants in captivity. This book chronicles the lives of five real-life elephants who were taken from their wild homes and sent to live in a zoo, circus, and traveling animal attraction. Some of these elephants get happy endings in the form of retiring to a sanctuary, but others have to remain in captivity. Sometimes getting to see life through the eyes of another can be an incredibly powerful tool. By showing children the difference between life in the wild and life in captivity for elephants, we can help to create a generation that is more attuned to the natural needs of these animals. The world’s elephant population is highly endangered by human actions so there’s no better time than now to raise awareness for their plight!
2. Hobbes Goes Home
Hobbes Goes Home tells the story of a dog who is taken to the shelter to escape an abusive situation. Luckily, after a harrowing ordeal he ultimately finds happiness. This tale can be a great way to start a conversation with your child about the importance of treating pets with respect and care. If you happen to have a dog or cat in the house, chances are your little one already understands what it means to take care of these animals, but giving them more insight into how important this task is can foster a deep appreciation and sense of responsibility that will last a lifetime!
3. Dave Loves Chickens
Dave Loves Chickens captures children’s imaginations right away with its colorful and unique illustrations. It tells the tale of a monster who doesn’t understand why humans eat animals. While this book might be on the heavier side, it does provide an opportunity for your child to think critically about how they view the different animals we share the world with. When we teach kids that there is more than one way to view chickens, pigs and cows they will be inspired to question social constructs and think differently – and perhaps, extend their circle of compassion beyond domestic pets.
4. Baa Humbug
Being a kid and being different can be very challenging and scary. Baa Humbug teaches children that it’s okay to not be like everyone else through the story of a sheep. Not only does this sweet story act as a lesson in being comfortable in your own skin, but it gives kids a chance to empathize with sheep and learn to draw connections between their own experience and that of animals. What better way to create a lasting sense of compassion!
5. The Story of Ferdinand
The Story of Ferdinand is a classic tale that few of your relatives would balk at being read to their children. In case you don’t know about this book, it tells the story of a peaceful bull who likes to spend his time among the flowers and trees. Unfortunately, some men see him and think he would be a good fit for their bullfights. This evergreen story can help your little one understand that like humans, animals don’t always fit into a prescribed box or stereotype – but rather, we’re all individuals. Now that’s a powerful lesson to learn at any age!
6. When Anju Loved Being an Elephant
Most children (and adults, for that matter) love elephants, so a book centered on an elephant appeals to a wide audience. When Anju Loved Being an Elephant tells the story of an elephant who is kidnaped and taken to be in an American circus. Where older generations grew up reading stories like Dumbo that make it seem as if life in the circus is entirely natural for elephants, the younger generation is privy to more knowledge and understanding of wild elephants. With this in mind, it is up to us to teach kids why elephants don’t belong in circuses to ensure that there is a safe future for these endangered animals.
7. A Kid’s Best Friend
This book shows children first hand how to interact with dogs through pictures of children caring for their companion animals around the world. Growing up with a pet is a truly irreplaceable experience for a little kid, and this goes for kids all over the place. This particular book is suggested by the Red Rover Readers Program for its keen ability to show children the importance of compassion and empathy for companion animals.
8. Goyangi Means Cat
This book tells the story of Soo Min, a Korean girl who moves in with an American family. She bonds with the family cat, Goyangi, who runs away. Soo Min helps find her and forms a bond with her new family. This is another tale that helps kids think about the power of human-animal friendships and it even touches on themes of adoption.
9. Gamba: An Optimistic Mountain Gorilla Tale
This story is told from the perspective of Gamba, a young mountain gorilla whose family is teaching him to survive in the wild. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes and he is rescued by humans who take on the responsibility of caring for him. Mountain gorillas are extremely endangered animals and this tale acts as a great teaching opportunity to show kids how human actions can impact wildlife. Although human interactions may have lead Gamba to a point where he needed rescuing, the story also shows how when kind humans step in to lend a hand things can change for the better. This is the perfect read for a little Jane Goodall in the making.
10. A Boy and a Jaguar
This touching book relates a story about a boy who speaks with a stutter except when around animals. Unfortunately, in her pursuit to be near more animals, he comes across creatures caged at the zoo and becomes very sad for them. Eventually, the little boy gains courage and uses his voice to help them by creating a jaguar preserve. This fantastic tale shows children that their voices and actions can have an impact on the world!
These stories are only a few possibilities to help teach children compassion for animals as well as other humans. Resources like PETA kids, the Red Rover Readers Program, and The Institute for Humane Education have a wide variety of suggestions so you can find a book appropriate to any child or situation. Don’t underestimate the power of a good book to impact a child’s life!
Lead image source: Flickr