Sunday, 22 February 2015

Food for thought...

Early in September I wrote a top 5 list sharing a selection of stories published for young readers that nurture an ethic of care for the living world around us. I also shared my fascination about the influences that guide us to developing our ethical beliefs and moral frameworks with regards to nonhuman nature on my own blog. At work I am surrounded by such stories and others that leave me baffled in the illustrations or concepts that they convey to young readers. In my own creative nonfiction writings, I have tried to steer away from the heavy anthropomorphism that is present in many of the narratives for young readers. That said, I do employ some anthropomorphic representations in relation to communication and/or relationships to drive my stories. This is something that I have, like many other children, done from a young age. However, with Alphabeasts and Beautiful Creatures I try my best to keep as close to conveying the experiences of the world of the species I write about as close to their respective realities as I can within my human capacity. 

This week, I was struck by two titles I came across in my library. The concept and the illustration are what surprised me in these two titles, and, as a result, the ideas or concepts that they perpetuate. I teach about the development of our anthrozoological beliefs through media and so I am fascinated to see how some of these ideas are shared through the stories on the shelves of libraries. The first title caught my eye as it advertised itself as “An Alphabeast of a book!” which is the title of my own series. The book written by Michaël Escoffier and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo is entitle Take away the A. I thought it had a brilliant concept of how it represented the alphabet to a young reader until I got to the letter O. The book is filled with all sorts of anthropomorphised images of various species but for the letter O it describes how “Without the letter O. Four wear Fur” with the accompanied image of four animals in fur lined coats. It is an interesting image and message on several levels. I came across a review of the book while researching it online that was at the opposite spectrum of what I gleaned from the image and message of the letter O myself. The review by Maria Popova  describes the image of the fur-clad duck, zebra, antelope and wolf tea party as a visual commentary of "the cruel price of fur garments." However, in my view, I was initially curious at the selection of beings. Three the four animals are prey animals while there is one lone predator species on the far right. Another aspect that struck me was that I saw this as the tacit or somewhat overt display of fur in fashion and the subtle implications that with the image of other species wearing the pelts of another being this then sends a message that condones this practice for humans. Writing about this today reminded me of the piece that my dear friend, who has been a constant support throughout my writing journey, wrote for my blog last March.

Now the second image I came across this week was similar. Yet I confess, I did not actually read the story as I was only was taken with the image by David Catrow in the book Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? I am curious about how we develop our nutritional habits and the influences that guide our dietary decisions. This is something that I explore from different angles in my own class when looking at mass media and most overtly on the topic of suicide food. With this image that I came across, a chicken sits at the counter of a local diner and yearningly gazes at the giant burger which is about the same size of the chicken itself. It looks very much like a beef burger and has a little flag in it that reads “well”, perhaps to underline that the chicken ordered the burger to be well done. Now this is a very interesting representation since despite the obvious anthropomorphised scenario, the chicken is depicted as a carnivore. As humans living in cities we are quite detached from the origins of our food and this distancing from the source of our food is even more apparent in such illustrations in that we afford qualities and characteristics of our own species to another whilst completely obliterating the reality of  the other… 

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