What are your or your children’s favorite books? Is there an animal super hero in the story? I bet that at least a couple of the main characters in your childhood books were animals. Who doesn’t remember Hans Christian Andersen’s Ugly Duckling or Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood?
The book I am currently reading and the ones I recommend herein however, are based on the authors biographies, research and travels as well as on ongoing evidence of the prevalent state of animal welfare around the world. These books are eye-opening, inspiring and change-provoking. They have all been written with deep concern and love for animals. For example, you’ll see in Ella, the children’s book, how the authors explain to young readers what baby elephants go through when they’re forced to work for tourists and how, like us humans, they long to stay with their mothers.
These book recommendations are for readers who love elephants and animals and for those looking for inspiration to help improve their lives. Below you will find a brief summary of the 5 must-read books for elephant & animal lovers + 1 children's book recommendation to teach compassion.
1. When Elephants Weep - The Emotional Lives of Animals Researchers J. Moussaieff Masson and S. McCarthy have been widely praised for writing a deep and insightful book on the way species feel across the animal kingdom. Their book provides scientific evidence as well as professional and personal experiences of those caring for animals on how these sentient beings behave, mourn, connect, play and weep.
From alligators to zebras, this New York Times Bestseller will open your heart to the complex emotions of the different kinds of animals. In one of their many mentions of elephant behavior for example, the authors share how elephants cry when they’re mistreated while living in captivity. They wrote:
“ An elephant trainer with a small American circus told researcher William Frey that his elephant, Okha, does cry at times (…) Okha sometimes shed a tear when being scolded, it is reported, and at least once wept while giving children rides.”
When Elephants Weep - The Emotional Lives of Animals will forever change the way we think of animals in their ability to feel.
There are parts that are difficult to read considering that it has taken us centuries, if not more, to start to realize how precious, limited and sensitive animals are. It is important at the same time to inform ourselves on the long way we have come to recognize some of the species with their unique traits and range of emotions.
This book will deepen our connection and strengthen our intention to protect them. As Dr. Jane Goodall regarded it, this book is “scholarly, vivid and compelling.”
2. The Humane Economy - Animal Protection 2.0 In his book, the former President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Wayne Pacelle, compiles a series of achievements and groundbreaking moments that have changed the food, agriculture and entertainment industry, giving us hope to continue our efforts towards a more compassionate and ethical consumer model. Through both his work as the leader of the United States largest animal welfare organization, and his personal journey, Pacelle saw food giants like Starbucks, Taco Bell and CostCo make ethical choices, like agreeing to source all of their eggs from cage-free farms.
As the animal rights movement gains momentum, other milestones have been achieved. For example, the multinational pharmaceutical company Merck ended the research that used chimpanzees to carry out drug tests. Other reasons to celebrate outlined in the book include the European Union’s ban on all animal testing for cosmetic purposes.
One of my favorite chapters of The Humane Economy - Animal Protection 2.0, is Chapter Four where Pacelle talks about the domino effect following the Ringling Brothers announcement to phase out elephant acts a few years back. Countries like Austria, Denmark, England and over 40 others around the world have banned or restricted the use of wild animals in circuses. This means less tigers, dolphins, bears and of course elephants being cruelly kept for human entertainment. Isn’t that a victory worth celebrating? The author emphasizes on how informed consumers, animals activists and animal welfare organizations can put pressure on corporations and governments to do the right thing for animals at large.
This informative and inspiring read will give you hope that, even if ever so slightly, we’re on the right path.
3. The Power of Joy in Giving to Animals : When two animal lovers come together to share their experience in dealing with difficult cases of animal cruelty, personal burnout, frustration and grief, the result is an insightful, practical and useful book to help other animal lovers find a balanced, healthy way to continue their passion to help animals in need.
Have you felt overwhelmed with news on how humans keep failing animals? Do you wish you could do more to help, but can’t commit more time or funds? We’re on the same boat. Often times I have trouble sleeping or wake up with a deep sense of sadness after learning all the things that are being done to animals, particularly elephants. Other days, for example I have this immense anxiety and sense of hopelessness, when I find out that the municipalities in Jordan are shooting stray dogs or if I read something upsetting in one of the outlets I follow. There are victories for sure, and there are battles that we will need to continue to fight for.
Throughout the book The Power of Joy in Giving to Animals, Dr. Linda Harper, animal advocate and psychologist and Faith Maloney, animal welfare consultant and founder of Best Friends share five balancing strategies to help us cope with the inherent difficulties of working in the animal cause. Some of these strategies include acceptance, setting limits and letting go. In one of the chapters, I found notably helpful that they elaborate on the importance of self-care and self-compassion as a way to replenish one’s soul in order to keep helping others. They state:
“Becoming aware of and respecting all that is present, including your mood, feelings, surroundings, ideas, environment, etc., is the first step to allowing your natural best to emerge.”
This book will help you discover and strengthen coping mechanisms and tap into your inner joy so that you can be your best self and share your love with those animals you want to help the most.
4. Our Symphony with Animals : Written by Dr. Aysha Akhtar, a physician and neurologist, this is the book I’m currently reading and it has taught me a lot already. Her deep personal story and profound love for animals is moving in many levels. Having to defend the connection between animals and human wellbeing, as well as her affection for them with relatives and colleagues that feel differently hasn’t been easy for her. We know that many professionals in the medical field tend to dismiss animals as if they were not important enough.
In one of her chapters, she describes not feeling comfortable at times with sharing how she deeply felt about animals. It is very common in our world to find people who don’t give enough value to the work and efforts involved in the animal cause. At times, I have met people that seem dismissive or uninterested in chatting about what I do and how my art is fueled by a passion to help elephants and animals in need. Many don’t recognize the need for others to get involved in improving the lives of those sentient beings who can’t speak for themselves. This is why in her book, Our Symphony with Animals, Dr. Akhtar highlights the need to admit that humans not only need to respect animals, but to also form bonds with them and protect them which will consequently benefit our own wellbeing.
Thanks to Dr. Akhtar, readers can learn about the crucial relationship between domestic and sexual violence victims, war veterans, homeless people, elder patients and healthy individuals and their companion animals. Her research and that of others in the field has shown that caring for animals improves the mental and physical wellbeing of the people caring for them: their blood pressure, cholesterol and baseline heart rate lower. In the case of those who’ve had heart attacks, there’s a higher survival rate in those who own pets.
She also explains that animals can help us reduce stress, depression and anxiety. Who doesn’t want that, right? I also like how she describes the comfort we find in their company:
”When we are at our most vulnerable — at a time when speech fails us — our friendships with animals prove to be so healing precisely because human language is not needed. An intrinsic, more intuitive way of knowing links us with other species.”
If you or someone you know is going through a difficult time, this book might be a great tool to learn about the mental and emotional benefits pets have to offer. Owning an animal is work but nothing compared to the love, understanding and loyalty you get back!
5. Leaving Time: This can very well be one of the most fascinating and original novels I have read in the past decade. To prepare for this book, author Jodi Picoult travelled to Botswana to spend time with a researcher of African elephants. During her time there, she observed wild elephants in their interactions and relationships, learned how to track elephant footprints and studied the depth of the feelings of loss that elephants experience when another one dies. Aside from this experience, Jodi Picoult also went to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where she met former working elephants who were either at zoos or circuses and who now enjoy a more peaceful existence surrounded by trees and vegetation.
The book illustrates how the bond between a mother and her child is just as strong as the one an elephant mother has with her offspring. In the wild, female elephants stay together until one of them dies. If left to live freely, they can be together for decades. This unfortunately is interrupted when elephants are poached from their natural habitat to be cruelly trained to work for tourists in the case of Asian elephants, or when they’re killed for their tusks in the case of African elephants. (Female African elephants also have tusks.) In Leaving Time, Dr. Alice Metcalf, a scientist who is one of the main characters explains:
“…there is a special empathy elephants have for mothers and children — either their own species’s or another’s. That relationship seems to hold a precious significance and a bittersweet knowledge: An elephant seems to understand that if you lose a baby, you suffer.”
Undoubtedly, this highly-praised novel will warm the hearts of those who read it. It will help you understand the devastating consequences of elephant poaching and will leave you wanting to take immediate action to help alleviate the suffering of both Asian elephants taken from the wild to work for tourists until they die and the African elephants which are being killed at a shocking rate of 100 per day for their ivory and skin. Both species could be extinct in our lifetime.
The author’s website has a list of elephant welfare organizations that you can support through donations.
Ella: While volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiangmai, Thailand, I came across this little children’s book. Even though I don’t have children of my own, I bought a couple of copies to give out to friends and family. The beautiful illustrations and the compelling story of Ella, the baby elephant made an imprint in my mind.
Ella is a great and beautiful resource to teach kids compassion towards elephants and to sensitize them on the urgent need to care for the environment and their species. On that note, one of the huge challenges that Asian elephants face in the words of Ella is:
“Many Asian elephants are held in captivity. Our trainers hurt us to “break our spirit” so that we will let people ride on our back and entertain people on holidays.
Babies are captured for zoos and circuses, but all these little elephants want is their mum—just like me.”
Ella is a book that will connect you to elephants in the most pure and touching way, while warming your heart and prompting you to spread compassion towards these gentle giants and do more to keep them together. Children, teachers, parents and everyone around you will learn a lot from this brave little elephant.
The publisher is Tusk Books and they donate $1 to support elephant causes for every book they sell. They recently published another book called Billie, in which they tell the story of a dolphin who, in search of adventure, finds many pressing issues like plastic pollution, captive dolphins and fish nets around the ocean.
These children’s books are a great educational tool that aside from raising awareness, also give back to the animals. Isn’t that a win-win?
Books are great teachers, and it is my hope that these six book recommendations help us open our hearts wider to the wonderful sentient beings that we’ll hopefully get to share this planet with.
What about you? Do you have any book recommendations that changed the way you feel about animals? Is there one you’d like to share about? Would love to know!
Thank you for being here.