Book Reviews

Victor, the Vegetarian: Saving the Little Lambs
1994, ISBN 0-9640394-2-7

Victor's Picnic with the Vegetarian Animals
1996, ISBN 0-9640394-7-8

Both by Radha Vignola and available from AVIVA!, P.O. Box 1471, Santa Cruz, CA 95061.

Somehow, the norm in contemporary American culture is to introduce children to "cute" animals - Bambi, Mary's Little Lamb, pets, etc. - yet feed them dead animals. Perhaps we seek to hide the truth by using different names - beef instead of cow, pork instead of pig, etc. Not only do vegetarian children have to come to terms with societal acceptance of the eating of animals, but its pervasiveness in the media. Vegetarian children need a rich source of stories depicting their lifestyles as humane and normal.

Radha Vignola, a nutrition educator, attempts to provide such stories. In Victor, the Vegetarian, we are introduced to a child of perhaps 6 or 7 who becomes a vegetarian soon after saving the lives of little lambs when he hears his father talking about turning them into lamb chops. The parents understand Victor's feelings, and agree to support his new diet if he can do some research at the local library to figure out what a vegetarian needs to eat to "stay strong and healthy". He goes on, in the follow-on book Victor's Picnic, to learn that vegetarians eat vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, grains, and seeds. Also, he finds that humans have teeth, nails, and jaws similar to vegetarian animals, and unlike carnivores.

I read the books to several children, including TVSer and friend Patrick (almost 3), and several new friends (Amie, Marcus, and Tiana, aged 9-11). Though they are marketed for ages 2-7, I believe the books are more suited for those 4-8 or so. The first book reinforces ethical arguments against killing, while Victor's Picnic presents physiological evidence that humans are not carnivores and appeals to slightly older vegetarian children. Patrick enjoyed the pictures and identifying animals, vegetables, nuts, etc. The older children, committed vegetarians, found the stories cute and fun.

Overall, the books are good additions to the library of vegetarian families with children. However, I think that they could have been slightly more subtle and "natural" in portraying vegetarianism. One thing that concerned me a bit is the focus on Victor's research and the potential message that vegetarians have to be more careful with their diets than flesh-eaters do. It might have been a nice touch to have mentioned how choosing vegetarianism in fact is a step toward good health.

None of these minor criticisms is meant to detract from these books. The themes are good ones, and children will feel proud to be vegetarian. The pictures are captivating and there is a nice song about what vegetarians eat that children will enjoy singing to the tune of Row, Row, Row Your Boat. A cassette tape is available in which the author reads both of the books.