This is a great week to celebrate -- I recently wrote and published a new children's book, and the timing couldn't be better. It’s Children’s Book Week, and next week is Be Kind to Animals Week. (Additionally, Monday, April 30 was Adopt a Shelter Pet Day).
From Lassie and Max the dogs, to Dewey and Skippyjon Jones the cats, animals have played a role in books, TV, and movies for generations. Do you remember your favorite animal book, TV or movie from childhood?
Mine was “Follow My Leader,” written during the 1950s but still a part of school libraries during the 1960s and 1970s when I grew up. The primary human character, Jimmy, becomes blind after a firecracker incident. He learns to rely upon a German Shepherd guide dog named Leader, who breaks down Jimmy’s emotional walls as well as helps escort him in this new reality of blindness.
For eons, animals have helped people, being used for hauling, protection, hunting, and rodent control, among so many other situations. These days, animals are used for therapy, in military service, as guide animals, and search and rescue animals, as well as companionship. Children especially respond well to dogs, cats, and other animals. Reading about animals is also a joy for many children, and so this week we celebrate kids, books, kindness and pets in honor of Children's Book Week and Be Kind to Animals Week.
As a writer of inspirational pet stories for children and adults, it’s my joy to share the wonder of animals, especially companions like dogs and cats. And, it’s my special pleasure to announce the publication of my newest children’s book “Jeremiah Finds a Home,” the story of my rescued, adopted Shih Tzu, Jeremiah. He lived in a puppy mill for three years, was rescued by Hearts United for Animals in 2016, and was adopted by me and my husband in late 2017. Although it took time for him to adjust to his new home and very own family, Jeremiah is a joyful dog who makes us all smile. My goal is to teach children and families about puppy mills, the importance of rescue, and the joy of pet adoption. The book is available on Amazon, and you can learn more about the story (told non-graphically) on my website.
There is much cruelty in the world, toward people, including children, and to pets. Kindness must be taught and modeled to kids. We as adults can, and should, do it. Pets do showcase kindness, and exposing children to therapy pets and read-to-the-dog programs at schools and libraries will help instill kindness as well. Books can also be a catalyst of kindness through subtle messages woven into the story. Just as Leader the dog in “Follow My Leader” showcases kindness toward the blind boy, Jimmy, or Lassie to Timmy, children learn compassion, kindness, friendship and other great lessons from pet books (and movies – think of how the animals helped each other in the “Homeward Bound” story).
As we celebrate children, books, pets, and kindness these next few weeks, model positive traits to your kids and read to them stories that showcase those characteristics, too. We can all impact the lives of children and the lives of animals in positive, caring ways.
What was your favorite animal book, movie or TV show and why? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
My pets are characters in many of my stories. In the new book about Jeremiah, the Shih Tzu, the story is told from the dog's point-of-view. Mary, my cocker/ springer mix, has two books about her, including visiting a ranch and encountering different animals there.
Be Kind to Animals Week overlaps with Children's Book Week. Kids can learn kindness to animals via reading. They also learn kindness through observation and interaction. During this special time, we can encourage children, other adults, as well as ourselves to be a bit kinder … and to read more.
There are many wonderful books available for children about animals. Within those pages, they can learn how to take care of animals as well as how pets take care of people. For a listing of great children's books about pets, visit http://dogtime.com/dog-health/general/5877-top-10-kid-friendly-pet-books and http://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Books-Childrens-Pet/zgbs/books/2853.
“Teach the children well,” are words in a Crosby, Stills and Nash song (see a YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ztVaqZajq-I). Teaching children kindness toward people and pets offers great rewards for those kids, including opportunity to do good in a community and the opportunity to make new friends. In fact, according to a research study called Kindness Counts, “When kids performed acts of kindness or took notice of the pleasant places they visited, their happiness quotient increased ... (and) … they gained an average of 1.5 friends during the month-long period” (see related article at http://www.rootsofaction.com/art-kindness-teaching-children-care/).
What are some ways we can be kind to pets and people, and how can we more greatly instill kindness in others, including children? The list of ideas is endless, but here are some suggestions:
It’s Children's Book Week, a time to celebrate children's books and children’s authors. Three of my four current published works are written for children (but adults seem to enjoy them as well!) -- I've been fortunate to visit a few classrooms recently in preparation and celebration of this special literary recognition.
As both a writer and a reader I've been influenced by many authors, most notably Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was my inspiration during my youth – I read all her “Little House” books, and I've read her works several times during my adult years as well. Since I grew up in southeastern Iowa, I related to Mrs. Wilder’s farm life, particularly in Missouri where she spent her later years. That home is located near Mansfield, MO – my maiden name is Mansfield -- combining those factors, I was thrilled when, while I was in high school, my parents took me to visit Laura's farmstead as we traveled through Missouri one summer. I visited again in 2007 when my husband and I traveled through the area on our way back to Wyoming from visiting his parents in North Carolina. Our blind dog, Sage, was with us then; the weather that December in southern Missouri was stunning, and as we walked the grounds of Rocky Ridge Farm, I reflected the impact Mrs. Wilder has had on children, youth, and adults since her first book was published in 1931 when she was 65 years old. My first book had been published earlier in 2007, and I had started visiting schools and sharing both my blind dog and the book I’d written about her. My career as an author began the year I was able to again visit my author heroine's property.
As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that things truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. It is not the things you have that make you happy. It is love and kindness and helping each other and just plain being good. - Laura Ingalls Wilder
There are many great childeren's books about a wide variety of topics and in a multitude of genres, some splashed with important life lessons. I write about dogs and weave positive lessons in my stories. I also discover valuable nuggets in others' works. Some of my favorite dogs books for kids (besides my own) are A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray by Ann Martin; Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; and The Tale of Two Bobbies by Kirby Larson. Ms. Larsen also writes historical fiction for kids – her Hattie Big Sky series is delightful! I've had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Ms. Larson, and, like Mrs. Wilder, I look up to Kirby for her accomplishments and her craft.
Though I'm not on the same level as the two women authors I most admire, I recently shared some of my stories at an event for families. We used the timing as a way to honor Moms, Kids and Dogs (for Mother's Day, Children's Book Week, and Be Kind to Animals Week). The event exposed youngsters and their families to a local author (me), someone who composes stories for them. I love sharing my writing with families in such settings, and I think it's great when authors go to libraries and schools – how I would have enjoyed meeting a real author, like Mrs. Wilder or Ms. Larson, when I was a kid!
So, this week, during Children's Book Week, expose your kids (or grandkids, nieces or nephews) to some great books – perhaps even take them to an author event. Sharing the gift of reading with children today positively impacts their future.
Happy Children's Book Week!
Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. - Emilie Buchwald, author
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.