Today we bring you Katrina Donovan Fleming, who – we’re excited to announce – is officially joining “the coop” here at Our Hen House, where she will specialize in reviewing children’s books and media, from a vegan and animal rights bent. Today, Katrina is talking about Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears, by Jill Robinson (who was just with us on Episode 199 of our podcast) and Marc Bekoff (who spoke with us back on Episode 114), and illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen. Though this book is touted as a children’s book, I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy. You too? Well, if you’re lucky, you’ll get one for free. That’s because, thanks to the amazing people over at Animals Asia (the incredible organization headed up by Jill Robinson), one lucky Our Hen House reader can win a copy! The details are beneath today’s review, so keep reading.
Book Review: Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears by Jill Robinson and Marc Bekoff and Illustrated by Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen
Review by Katrina Donovan Fleming
Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (Sleeping Bear Press, 2013) tells the true story of one bear in China who spent the initial part of his life having bile painfully extracted from his body for Chinese medicine. Unlike humans who generously donate their blood, Jasper had no choice. Unlike humans, he was in a cage barely bigger than his body, with no opportunity to move. His whole purpose, according to his captors, was to lie in one spot all day and all night and provide them with lucrative bile.
Which sounds like a recipe for a depressing children’s book. Except it’s not.
Jill Robinson, who co-authored Jasper’s Story along with Marc Bekoff – and is the founder of the animal protection organization Animals Asia – was recently featured on the Our Hen House podcast. During her interview, she shared moving stories of rescuing Jasper, as well as other bears. After living as victims of the cruel industry that harvests bear bile, these animals found refuge at Animals Asia’s sanctuaries in China and Vietnam. Despite the terrible conditions Jasper endured prior to his rescue, he quickly adapted to his kind caretakers and his new home – regaining strength and developing a touching zest for life. In her interview, Jill noted that what was remarkable about Jasper was that he seemed to take on the role of ambassador to other bears. When newly arrived bears were scared and untrusting, he’d comfort them. If fights arose, he’d put his body between the angry animals and restore the calm. (For more extensive information on the rescue work of Animals Asia, watch the documentary Cages of Shame.)
Jasper’s Story opens with his rescue, and goes on to show his transformation from a frightened, traumatized animal into one who slowly begins to realize that he is safe. Gijsbert van Frankenhuyzen’s illustrations brilliantly convey the emotions that Jasper experiences during this time – from fear, to anger, to tentative playfulness, to, ultimately, patient empathy for others.
In one sense, this book can be seen as a gentle parable that teaches us that forgiveness and a joyful life are possible, even after unimaginable abuse and neglect. Some might even be tempted to view this as a metaphor for the triumph of the human spirit.
Yet, unlike some other children’s books where the animals’ stories are simply tools used for the purpose of instructing children about how to treat other humans, Jasper’s Story does not shy away from the consequences of abuse, or the potential for redemption, for the bears themselves.
It’s important to note here that, while the book does explore the issue of abuse, be assured that the storytelling method is appropriate for young children. The young readers will, of course, feel upset that the bears are hurt and sad, but in a way that will likely spur them to action rather than traumatize them. It’s a fine balance to achieve, and the authors pull it off seamlessly.
What is also heartening is that through the vivid illustrations in Jasper’s Story, kids can learn that there are people in other parts of the world who are trying to right the wrongs perpetrated against non-human animals. A child reading this book will be inspired by the example of the rescuers, and might seek ways to help animals who are being abused where he or she lives. In short, this is truly a book that is capable of planting seeds of compassion. This kind of conversation starter is precisely what a teacher like me craves when working to embolden young people to care about their fellow earthlings.
Want to win a copy of Jasper’s Story? Simply comment below and share with us your favorite way to foster compassion in young people. Feel free to tell us your go-to tools, your best strategy, or simply how you work to ensure that the kids in your life are growing up with a strong sense of empathy for others – including animals. You have one week to enter! At that time, we will randomly select a winner. Be sure to include your email address so that we can contact you with the good news. You can only enter one time. Best of luck!
Katrina Donovan Fleming is a writer, teacher, artist, gardener, and returned Peace Corps volunteer who became vegan two years ago at the tender age of 40. She lives just outside of Boston with her husband and two cats, and writes a blog called Suburban Snow White, where she muses on creating and enjoying an animal-friendly life. She is also a regular contributor to Vegbooks. A professionally trained flutist, Katrina now dabbles in banjo, a development likely inspired by Kermit.