Favorite Quote: My boring job that didn’t make me cry held a strange comfort for me. My man challenged me, though. He believed that I was the kind of person who needed to have a job that made me cry. He was right.
Author Tracey Stewart is best known as the wife of comedian and former Daily Show host, Jon Stewart. In my opinion that doesn’t make her any more or less qualified to write a book than anyone else on the planet. The truth is I probably would have given this book a pass if I hadn’t heard her interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. She just completely won me over with her humorous candor and bright outlook on life.
She articulated something in that interview that I’ve often felt, but never known how to put into words – how fear of failure, fear of heartache can keep us from pursuing our passions. It wasn’t until she met her husband Jon that she began to see herself as worthy of the things she’d always secretly wanted. To be clear I’m not talking about a man rescuing a woman here, but rather the experience of finding a true partner in life who believes in the best version of you and makes you see it too. It resonated big time with me and I had a sense that she would have more gems like this to share in her book. I was right and she did.
The thing I love most about this book is how it takes something so BIG (animal advocacy) and makes it completely manageable and utterly charming. Although I am a committed animal rights activist and 5 year (and counting!) vegetarian, I avoid most literature surrounding this topic. It can just feel so heavy and, let’s be honest, sometimes a little preachy. Stewart’s tone is the opposite of this. She is quite simply laying out the information and leaving it up to the reader how to proceed with this knowledge. It can’t be denied that there are a few tough stories. For example, there is the tale of Christopher Robin, a Pit-mix who was found in a garbage can with his ears lopped off by a pair of scissors. However, most of the animal stories (including Christopher Robin’s) have a happy ending!
This book is divided into three distinct sections in the following order: Animals at Home, Backyard Wildlife, and Falling in Love on the Farm. Basically, she progresses from the most familiar and relatable (cats and dogs) to the more foreign and challenging (cows, pigs, turkeys, goats, etc.). I think it is fairly genius; I just hope most readers make it to the final section so they, too, can fall in love with farm animals!
Because I can’t and don’t want to go on and on forever, I’m going to focus on the section covering farm animals. This section attempts to engender some compassion for these often misunderstood animals by revealing a bit of their beautiful and complex inner lives. I think most people know by now that pigs are thought to be even smarter than dogs, but did you know that cows swap babysitting duties with one another or that sheep can recognize and remember up to fifty faces?
It’s true, this section does also lay out some (not so pretty) facts about the reality of animals living in factory farming conditions. However, the purpose here isn’t to guilt or horrify the reader. Stewart acknowledges early on in the book that hearing about atrocities committed against animals can make us feel overwhelmed and helpless, and that’s exactly what she wants to avoid. Rather than feeling weighed down by the harsh realities, she wants us to feel moved and inspired by the rich inner lives of farm animals.
It is, of course, not fun or easy to acknowledge that the animals we eat might be as smart or sentient as the other animals we value highly and share our lives with. But the undeniable truth is that cows, pigs or even turkeys are clever, funny, devious, quirky, and emotional in their own unique ways. The good news for some readers is that I don’t think Stewart is advocating for full-scale vegetarianism or veganism here. I believe she’s just hoping to open up some hearts and minds to the reality of factory farming and they will in turn take action in small or big ways in their own lives.
The other thing that I adore about this book are the illustrations. I am a big fan of illustrations and not just in kids’ books so I was thrilled to see that this one was so lavishly and lovingly illustrated by Lisel Ashlock. They are sort of reminiscent the style found in those old Golden Book science and nature guides of the 40s, 50s and 60s. They so perfectly capture the personality of every single animal featured. How can you not fall in love with Tom, the flirty turkey?
I think this in an excellent book for someone who is just looking to dip their toes into the animal advocacy pool or for someone like me who is just looking to strengthen their commitment to animals. Yes, it’s a book with an agenda, but it’s also a fun and gentle book that doesn’t take an extreme stance. I highly recommend it!
Title: Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better
Author: Tracey Stewart
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars