Animal ethics 101 Catherine Kirkwood & Paige Grant
Santa Fe i s an unapologetically pet- crazy town. You can’t throw a tennis ball without hitting a Subaru decked out in “Dog Is My Co-Pilot” and “Rescued Is My Favorite Breed” bumper stickers. We have an inordinately high number of all-natural and fancy pet-food stores per capita. Pet psychics abound.
It’s fitting, then, that two local authors, Paige Grant and Catherine Kirkwood, chose cats and dogs as the subjects for children’s books that deliver clear, age- appropriate messages about responsible pet ownership and the love and connection we feel with our animals. Kirkwood’s Looking for Tula is a nonfiction account (sort of; it’s told through the eyes of a dog) about what happened when Kirkwood moved with her husband and two canines from Santa Fe to Miami and one of them got spooked and escaped the yard in Florida. Grant’s Kitten Caboodle is similarly rooted in real life: One afternoon, Tessa’s dad comes home from work with a cardboard box filled with six kittens that he found on the side of the road.
Kirkwood (who has since returned to New Mexico) is a painter, and her illustrations of Tula and her other dog, Rocky, the book’s narrator, are expressive and far beyond the usual fare found in children’s books. Kirkwood’s illustrations are painted on canvas, which i s clear when a reader peers closely at the page. An opening scene, which features Rocky and Tula on t he back porch of Kirkwood’s New Mexico residence, i s particularly striking. The dogs look out over a piñonand-juniper- dotted hill to the Sangre de Cristo mountains beyond. The greenery of t he l andscape and faint double rainbow in a clearing sky suggest summer. Later in the book, after Tula has run away from home and Rocky and their human companions are looking for her, there’s a scene on a crowded Miami beach, which depicts exposed flesh, palm trees, overflowing trash cans, and striped umbrellas. Opposite the painted illustrations, sharing space with the text, are precise pencil sketches that imagine Tula’s adventures while she’s away. In one vignette, Tula roots through a trash can, while in another she looks plaintively out to sea.
Because Looking for Tula’s narrative is visually rendered with such skill, it elevates an everyday — i f nerve- racking and potentially heartbreaking — experience into art. For younger book lovers, especially those who may not grasp the meaning of every written word,
Looking for Tula provides ample opportunity to point out objects in the detailed illustrations, from bicycles to hot- dog carts to Tula’s favorite stuffed monkey.
Grant’s Kitten Caboodle has more of a message or agenda than Looking
for Tula (namely, t hat humans should spay and neuter their pets and refrain from leaving them by the highway if they can’t care for them), but it’s delivered in a palatable, sweet story accompanied by Lisa Carol Williams’ illustrations. Still, the book does not shy away from several unpleasant truths and is refreshing in its forthright approach. Young readers will learn, for instance, that people sometimes treat animals poorly. Tessa’s classmates adopt two of the abandoned kittens, and Tessa’s mom brings two to the animal shelter. When she returns home, she reflects on the many older shelter cats who remain unadopted. Late in the book, when Tessa asks why the two kittens they kept had to be fixed, her mother illustrates catpopulation explosion via a math lesson and kittyshaped rubber stamps.
Both Kitten Caboodle and Looking for Tula will appeal to children who love animals, but especially those who have pets at home. Each book passed muster with my resident t wo- year- old, who, like many young children, likes to hear the same story over and over again. In the case of
Looking for Tula and Kitten Caboodle, one hopes that the repetition of pet values will impart the idea that our pets are family members, and we must strive to do r ight by t hem, always. — Adele Oliveira
In an unapologetically pet-crazy town, it’s fitting that two local authors, Paige Grant and Catherine Kirkwood, chose cats and dogs as the subjects for children’s books that deliver clear, age-appropriate messages about responsible pet ownership and the love
and connection we feel with our animals.