The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

October 7th, 2016 · Movies

Girl holding a movie camera - stock image to accompany movie reviewReview By JENNIFER KALI

We were excited to see this movie as a family. We’re dog people and happen to have a pug a lot like the character Mel (voiced by Bobby Moynihan) in the movie. We saw it on vacation at an awesome drive-in theater in Burlington, VT, which just enhanced our movie watching experience.

The movie follows Max, a terrier mix (voiced by Louis C.K.) who lives with Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) in New York City. Katie and Max’s relationship is so cute it makes you want to snuggle with you dog. The premise of the movie is that during the day while the owners are at work, pets hang out together. When we meet Max, he is asked by his neighbor friends what he would like to do that day. He just sits by the door and says, “I’m just going to wait here for Katie. I miss her so much.” And so Max is really thrown for a loop when Katie rescues Dude (voiced by Eric Stonestreet), a massive mutt, from the shelter. Katie tells Max that she knows Dude is overwhelming, but she couldn’t stand the though of him in the shelter with no one to love him. The main action of the story begins when Max and Dude, fighting with each other, get lost on the streets of New York one day while Katie is at work. The story follows Max and Dude through a series of adventures throughout New York trying to find their way back to Katie, and in the mean time, learning to be brothers.

The story is cute. It’s jumpy and active, much like a hyper dog. It’s a bit much for me, but the rest of my family loved it. The thing that makes it interesting for a review on Vegbooks is that it offers a well-rounded look at the way pets are treated. The main characters are beloved pets but there is a group of outcast pets that Max and Dude encounter on the streets. These are pets that were mistreated by their owners and now roam the streets as a rough gang. They all share their stories, and your heart goes out to them. The one story that I remember is that of Tattoo (voiced by Michael Beattie), a pig that lived in a tattoo parlor and was used by the owner to practice tattoo techniques. This street gang represents the dark side of pet ownership.

Anyone with pets, especially dogs, will enjoy this movie. Common Sense Media recommends it for ages 6+. Both my 7-year-old and 3-year-old loved it.

Rated PG.

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Mighty Jack

September 14th, 2016 · Books


As big fans of the Zita the Spacegirl series, as well as Little Robot, our entire family was excited to receive Ben Hatke’s new graphic novel, Mighty Jack. I’d read that it was loosely based on Jack & The Beanstalk, but from the first page it was clear the story had a life of its own. With complex and well-developed characters, gorgeous and inventive illustrations, and a storyline that is at once relatable and fantastic, I highly recommend Mighty Jack for ages 7-13.


Jack’s story opens with a start as a rushed morning of granola bars and an impatient Mom reveals countertop bills with “payment past due” and a younger sister, Maddie, who doesn’t speak and needs to be looked after all summer. The summer doesn’t get a chance to begin before a creepy flea market vendor convinces Jack (with encouragement from a suddenly vocal Maddie) to trade a strange box of even stranger seeds for the keys to Jack’s mom’s car. The action never slows down from there.

Adventures in a magical garden include a talkative dragon, adorable, mischievous, and scary plants, and a variety of joys and consequences that (literally) spring from decisions the heroes make about the seeds and garden. The action is punctuated by scenes of developing friendships and relatable moments between siblings.

The illustrations are both joyful, fun, and and age-appropriately scary. The characters are expressive and the plants take on personalities of their own with simple, expressive, and colorful drawings. The mystery and wonder that fill this accessible graphic novel will ensure that your entire family eagerly awaits Book Two of Mighty Jack. And in the meantime, the book holds up to repeated readings during which you’ll find new details you missed before.

I especially liked the trueness of the characters. Maddie, Jack’s younger sister, isn’t painted as a stereotype of a child with Autism; she has a well-rounded personality, like all the characters in the book. The main characters all show flaws, and they make both responsible and poorly thought-out decisions during the story. They also show genuine caring and vulnerabilities that will ring true to children and adults alike.

There are some frightening moments in the story that may upset more sensitive children; one scene in particular includes an accident that could have had fatal consequences for Maddie. In addition, the plants coming to life may encourage some dinner table discussion, especially for vegetarian families. Still, the fantastic storyline and fanciful drawings make Mighty Jack a welcome addition to our family library, and we can’t wait for the next book!

The publisher sent a copy of this book for review.

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August 30th, 2016 · Books


Inspired by the movie that was recently released, my seven-year-old daughter and I read The BFG together. It’s a fun read and many times my daughter laughed out loud.

The BFG Movie Tie-In (1)

From Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Magic Finger, this novel tells the story of a little girl named Sophie who is captured in the night by a giant and whisked away to giant country. Luckily for Sophie, this giant is a Big Friendly Giant (BFG), unlike the other giants who live in giant country who love to eat humans. Sophie and the BFG become quick friends and devise a plan to capture the human eating giants, saving countless humans from being meals. The story is humorous, fun, and just a little bit suspenseful and made for a really enjoyable read aloud, especially when paired with a trip to see the movie in the theater.

We really enjoyed the vegetarian themes throughout. At first Sophie is scared that The BFG plans to eat her. He scoffs at this idea, saying that he would never eat a human, even though this is what all the other giants do. He is so committed to his vegan lifestyle that he resigns himself to eat the only food available to him in giant country–the horrendous snozzcumber. He is repulsed by its taste, and yet he eats it day in and day out because he doesn’t want to take life in order to live.  In the course of this conversation, Sophie starts to feel superior to the human-eating giants until the BFG reminds her that she eats pigs and how does that make the pigs feel?

Sophie is confused as to why the BFG took her if he doesn’t want to eat her. He explains that he captured her because she saw him. He explains that his existence must remain a secret because humans love to put nonhumans in cages just to be stared at, and what a boring life that would be, a great anti-captivity statement that is echoed throughout.

After all of these great animal-friendly messages peppered throughout, I was disappointed that when the BFG and Sophie meet the queen of England near the end if the book, she feeds them a breakfast of sausages, bacon, and eggs.

I would definitely recommend this book to vegetarian and vegan families. Many if the themes are great conversation starters. It’s best as a read-aloud because the strange way the giants talk is difficult to read for newer readers. My daughter loves the flatulence humor but this may not be for everyone. Also there are outdated gender roles that are uncomfortable for me, but not too severe.

Ages 6-12.

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The BFG (2016)

August 26th, 2016 · Movies

Girl holding a movie camera - stock image to accompany movie reviewReview By JENNIFER KALI

We took our seven-year-old to watch this delightful movie about a big friendly vegetarian giant and the entire family enjoyed it. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the live action and CGI cast bring this lovely story to life. The giant’s CGI features are so friendly and loveable.

Based on the chapter book of the same name by Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Magic Finger), “The BFG” tells the story of a Big Friendly Giant who chooses not to eat human beings like all the other giants. The giant captures a little girl, Sophie, and they become great friends.

There is a nice representation of what it is like to fear being eaten as Sophie at first thinks The BFG is going to eat her and then several scenes of Sophie being hunted by the other giants who do eat people. Sophie and The BFG concoct a plan to stop all of the other giants from eating people, a successful plan in which none of the giant’s is harmed.

I was really looking forward to this movie because the book has such a strong vegetarian message. The movie removes many of the conversations in which Sophie and The BFG discuss vegetarian topics. But there is still a strong vegetarian vibe to this movie and a vegetarian child will really enjoy it. There are not a lot of scary parts–a few scenes in which giants are hunting Sophie and a few scenes in which the other giants bully The BFG. But overall it’s not a super scary movie. There are some flatulence jokes which my seven year old said was her favorite part but others may consider crass.

Rated PG. Common Sense Media recommends this movie for ages 7+ and my seven-year-old really loved it.

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