I was asked, by Insight Editions, to review a children's book titled The Peaceable Forest: India's Tale of Kindness to Animals.
My first impression was of the beautifully illustrated dust jacket. This isn't a book you want to put on the kid's bookshelf (although you could, don't get me wrong). It is an heirloom quality book that I would want to keep pristine, reading it carefully to my two year old daughter now and giving it to her once she's older and understands books aren't for tearing and scribbling in.
For perspective, I just gave her her first "paper" book. It's title? No Hitting, by Karen Katz (yes, we are battling that right now - sigh). This one will go on the "special book" shelf for now.
To give you an overview of the book, from Mandala Earth Editions:
"In this ancient parable from India, a forest-dwelling hunter learns that cruelty has consequences and that compassion has rewards. When the hunter meets the wise man, Narada, "Do unto others as they would do unto you" takes on a very concrete meaning. The sage leads the hunter on an imagined journey in which the hunter becomes the hunted. When the hunter realizes his actions affect other living things, he has a change of heart and begins to live in peace with the animals he once pursued.
The Peaceable Forest is the ideal picture book for inspiring young readers to respect life in all its forms."
As an ecologist, vegetarian, and animal-lover, I am always excited to find ways to pass on a live and let live attitude to my daughter. The first time I read this book was sitting with her in our favorite reading chair. She loved pointing out the colorfully illustrated animals, though the message is still a bit above her head. We journeyed through a story of a hunter leaving devastation in his wake - injured and scared animals left to suffer and die. He was hunting purely for pleasure. Then the gentle Sage Narada was there, to provide comfort and healing to the hurting creatures.
Eventually the Sage catches up with the hunter, and brings all the animals he had once hurt or killed upon him in nightmarish fashion, causing the hunter to in return feel the pain and fear he had wreaked upon the animals, as the hunter becomes the hunted. After a thought-provoking discussion with the Sage, the hunter has a change of heart, and through tear-filled eyes pleads with the Sage to help him stop killing.
The ensuing discussion proceeds as such:
"From today on, never harm or eat another animal," said Narada.
"But how will I live?" asked Mrigari (the hunter). "What will I eat?"
"You do not have to kill to eat. The earth produces fruits and vegetables, grains and beans. You will not go hungry."
Mrigari proceeds to break his bow in a gesture that begins his new life as a friend to animals. We then learn that the story teller is himself Mrigari.
My initial impression of this book, though I love the tale, is that it was a bit idealistic. I personally have no problem with the hunting of animals, as long as they are taken humanely and for human consumption. The book paints the taking of animals for food in a negative light. However, in this case the hunter was hunting purely for sport and in an entirely non-humane way, leaving the animals to suffer. I take great issue with this, and like how the hunter in the end sees error in his ways and comes to care for the animals he once hurt with disregard.
Then I saw a "Note to Teachers and Parents" in the back of the book:
"The Peaceable Forest is a retelling of an ancient Vedic tale that has been passed on for centuries in the oral tradition from parents to children. This illustrated version of a beloved story from the Sanskrit Bhagavata Purana reminds children that compassion for living creatures and respect for life have their own rewards. The illustrations feature flora and fauna native to India, including langur monkeys, sarus cranes, and banyan and date palm trees."
I love learning of old stories passed down through ancient cultures, and find much wisdom in them. I thought the author/illustrator did a beautiful job with recreating this legend into a children's tale. It is a book I will be happy to share with my daughter, once she's old enough to appreciate the message. And hopefully she will share the same values about respecting animals, nature and the earth that my husband and I do.
The Peaceable Forest - India's Tale of Kindness to Animals
By Kosa Ely, Illustrations by Anna Johansson