Mercy: The Incredible Story of Henry Bergh, Founder of the ASPCA and Friend to Animals

August 5th, 2016 · Books


I share my birthday (March 2) with Dr. Seuss AKA Theodor Seuss Geisel, which is pretty cool. BUT I’m envious of children’s author Nancy Furstinger who shares hers with the legendary Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA and who I would call the grandfather of animal protection in the United States.

Bergh was an icon. He was one really tall chap who sported a top hat that further augmented his physical and figurative authoritative places in society. An aristocrat by birth, he enjoyed his leisure time in Victorian NYC, attending and writing plays, but would eventually come to encounter two scenes of animal cruelty — a Spanish bullfight and a Russian beating his horse mercilessly — that would launch him into becoming one of the loudest voices for the voiceless.

Henry championed not only compassion for canines — working dogs, fighting dogs, and strays of all kinds — but felines, sea turtles, horses, pigeons, farmed animals, circus animals, and many others. He would take on any issue no matter how controversial, like hunting for sport, and did so with such ferocity and zeal. While we have a short bio of Henry featured on our museum’s website, Nancy Furstinger has filled a void in the children’s lit word by creating this thorough and articulate chapter book for grades 5-7 about this American hero who is generally unrecognized outside of animal welfare circles. It’s a book I’d recommend for not only the upper elementary or middle school audiences, but for adults too who want a quick, concise, and illustrated read about this hero of history.

From “Swill Milk and Slaughterhouses” to “‘Civilized’ Blood Sports” to “Battling Barnum,” her chapters explore key animal issues and segments of Bergh’s life. Vincent Desjardin’s artwork is a welcomed break every few pages, and while he illustrates some heavy subject matter, it doesn’t read that way, making it very accessible to any reader. Additional perks throughout the text are sidebars on people and trends of the era including Darwin, Louisa May Alcott, euthanasia in America, and child labor to name a few.

Grades 5-7 (and adults too!)

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Open Season (2006)

August 3rd, 2016 · Movies

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

Our family loves outdoor movie night screenings, and thankfully these are pretty common in our area. This weekend we went to a screening of “Open Season,” which I was excited about because I’ve been wanting to watch it with my kids for a while. It’s a mainstream animated comedy from 2006 with a strong anti-hunting theme. A grizzly bear named Boog (Martin Lawrence) is kept as a pet, living in the garage of a park ranger. A deer named Elliot (Ashton Kutcher) convinces Boog to escape from his cush life indoors to experience the wild. Boog doesn’t like the wild – hunting for food and using the bathroom are among his biggest complaints. But things really start to get bad for Boog when he learns what Open Season is. Boog organizes the forest animals to stage war against the hunters and eventually drive them out of the woods.

Though the movie deals with a pretty scary topic, it is done in such a slapstick way that it is really accessible to all. Common Sense Media recommends this movie for ages 6+. My 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son both loved it, though she followed the plot more than he did. My daughter laughed out loud many times throughout the movie. The war the animals stage on the hunters is mostly silly pranks, like stealing their underwear and skunk-bombing them, and that’s about as scary as it gets. The animation is really beautiful, with the Pacific Northwest as a backdrop to the story.

I’m always amazed at how animal-friendly mainstream children’s movies are. This one tackles hunting dead on. We see hunting from the perspective of the hunted, and it’s not good. There is a main hunter that is presented as truly evil. He is a trophy hunter and his cabin is full of stuffed dead animals and when Boog sees this, he is terrified. Hunting is not something my family encounters in our lives and it was a nice introduction of this topic for my daughter. I highly recommend this movie. Animal loving kids will love cheering on the animals and afterwards you might have some great conversations about hunting.

I asked my kids for their takes. My son (2 years old) said “I liked that the dog could talk!” My daughter (7 years old) said this:

This movie was about a bear who had a person he really loved. He got set out in the wild during open season for the hunters. And the animals decided to fight for their freedom. It’s good for kids who really love animals like me. And they can learn about how every open season hunters come into the woods to kill animals and I don’t think that’s right.

Rated PG.

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Octopus’s Garden

May 24th, 2016 · Books


My son, now 2.5, received this book version of Ringo Starr’s famous song for his first birthday and it has been his favorite book since. Many night this is the only book we ready before bed (again, and again…). Sometimes he likes me to sing it, and sometimes he wants it in spoken word. Sometimes he sings along.

Octopus's garden

The book really is gorgeous and the lyrics make a fabulous children’s book. See the trailer for the book here. The pictures have great detail that my son loves picking apart, noticing different things each time (“What’s that?”).

The entire story takes place as a boy imagines a more rich world for his pet goldfish. The first page of the book is simple and plain, with the boy staring into the goldfish’s boring bowl which quickly transforms into a beautiful lush sea. This could spark a great conversation about the lives of animals forced to live in tiny enclosures when they could be swimming in the sea. The differences between the imagined sea and the boring fishbowl are very obvious and would be great conversation starters.

It includes a CD with Ringo Starr singing which we have seldom used, mostly because we don’t have a CD player at home. But you could also easily play the song on your phone as you flip through the pages, though do this one time and it will be expected every time (I speak from experience). My son also loves watching the trailer which brings the book to life.

Highly recommended. Ages 1-8.

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Bee & Me: An Animotion Experience

May 21st, 2016 · Books


I love this book! I picked it up because of the amazing animotion illustrations on almost every page that make it seem like the book is in motion, with bees flying, dogs running, a boy waving goodbye, a flower blooming. My two-year-old is enthralled by this unique book in motion. Go here for a video of this book in action.

I thought this would be a ho-hum book with really cool animation, but I was so wrong. Bee & Me tells the story of a bee that becomes trapped in the room of a young boy who is scared of bees. Desperate to escape, the bee tells the boy why bees are so important, both for growing our fruits and vegetables and for helping to keep our earth beautiful and full of life. The bee says “we are good for so much more than just honey.” The boy is impressed, makes a promise to never swat a bee again, and helps the bee find freedom.

At the end if the book there is a page of bee facts that an older child would enjoy. Additionally there is a page about how to help our dwinling bee population, an important and timely environmental message.

This book has a great animal-friendly environmental message that draws kids in with super cool animation, which is why I love it so much. It does advocate for buying local honey to help the local bee population, a point with which some readers may disagree. Otherwise, I think this book is an excellent addition to any animal-loving environmentalist’s library.

Ages 2-7.

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