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World Vegetarian Day reading

vegetarian iconToday is World Vegetarian Day! (High-five to all my fellow veggies out there!) These veg-approved books — some classics, some brand new, and all recommended by The Horn Book Magazine and Guide — remind us all to be kind to all creatures (and to eat our vegetables). Any favorites you would add?

Don’t miss author Jennifer Armstrong’s 2010 Horn Book Magazine article “Eating Reading Animals.”

Picture Books

choi_new catThe feline protagonist of Yangsook Choi’s New Cat helps contain a fire in Mr. Kim’s factory one night when she knocks over a bucket of tofu while chasing a mouse. Characterized by rounded shapes and solid black outlines, the illustrations of Mr. Kim’s cat (and best friend) include one that slyly mimics Asian cat statues believed to bring their owners luck by inviting in new customers and friends. In both business and friendship, Mr. Kim’s luck couldn’t possibly be better. (Farrar/Foster, 1999)

christensen_plant a little seedFrom its handsome title-page introduction of fourteen vegetable-garden plants to the useful facts and tips arrayed on seed packets on its last page, Bonnie Christensen’s Plant a Little Seed is an inspiring celebration of planning, growing, and enjoying the results of a community garden. A boy and girl with comfortably muddy knees are the gardeners. Vividly colored illustrations invest the whole cycle, from catalog to harvest, with energy. (Roaring Brook/Porter, 2012)

drescher_hubert the pudgeHubert, a pig-like horned “pudge,” escapes from Farmer Jake’s Pudge Processing Farm, but he can’t enjoy his freedom until he liberates his friends. In Hubert the Pudge: A Vegetarian Tale, author/illustrator Henrik Drescher’s entertaining if thinly disguised animal-rights manifesto, the happy ending rests on the commercial success of tofu hot dogs. Visible line strokes and heavy texturing define the wildly humorous colored-pencil and ink illustrations. (Candlewick, 2006)

ehlert_eating the alphabetFrom the endpapers’ bright-colored flat representations of fruits and vegetables to the rollicking invitation, “Apple to Zucchini, come take a look. Start eating your way through this alphabet book,” Lois Ehlert’s gastronomic tour of the alphabet is unique and filling. A worthy successor to Ehlert’s earlier books Growing Vegetable Soup and Planting a Rainbow, Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z presents up to twelve fruits or vegetables — often as common as banana or pumpkin and occasionally as obscure as xigua and jicama — for each letter of the alphabet. (Harcourt, 1989; new editions 2003 and 2013)

lin_ugly vegetablesIn Grace Lin’s The Ugly Vegetables, a young girl is disappointed with her family’s Chinese vegetable garden because the other gardens in the neighborhood are like “rainbows of flowers.” Her mother reassures her that the ugly vegetables are better than flowers; sure enough, the aromatic vegetable soup her mother makes brings the whole neighborhood to their door for a taste. The simply told text is well matched with the lively, color-saturated paintings. (Talewinds, 1999; new edition 2001)

10 Hungry RabbitsWhen Mama Rabbit announces her plans to make vegetable soup, her ten children — each wearing a different color — gather ingredients: one purple cabbage, two white onions, etc. The color and number concepts of Anita Lobel’s 10 Hungry Rabbits are reinforced in multiple ways through words and pictures. Best of all, with its engaging characters and rich language, the book can be read just for the fun of it. (Knopf, 2012)

martin_piggy and dadThe idea of going fishing with Dad for the first time is exciting, but Piggy learns the reality is another matter in David Martin’s Piggy and Dad Go Fishing. Piggy finds a couple of details about the sport (skewering worms and fish) troubling; Dad wisely doesn’t force the issue. Frank Remkiewicz’s summery watercolor-and-pencil cartoon illustrations clue listeners into Piggy’s emotions and create a bit of tension in the nicely paced story. (Candlewick, 2005)

moore_lucky ducklingsWhen Mama Duck takes her five ducklings for a walk, they fall, one by one, through a storm sewer. Three firefighters and a bystander work together to rescue the ducklings, and the brood continues on its way. In Lucky Ducklings, author Eva Moore’s expert use of pattern and repetition is nicely echoed in illustrator Nancy Carpenter’s charcoal vignettes, making this a good choice for reading aloud. (Scholastic/Orchard, 2013)

sayre_rah rah radishesRah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre offers energetic rhymes accompanied by color photos inventory veggies at an indoor farmers’ market: “Head for cabbage. / Greens for sale. / Fall for fennel, / Swiss chard, / kale!” The variety and arrangements of good-looking produce will get kids pointing to vegetables they see on trips to the market (next step: eating!). A brief appended note tells more about veggies. (Simon/Beach Lane, 2011)


One and Only IvanIn short chapters that have the look and feel of prose poems, Katherine Applegate’s Newbery Medal–winning novel The One and Only Ivan (illustrated by Patricia Castelao) captures the voice of a captive gorilla who lives at the “Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade.” When a new baby elephant arrives, Ivan realizes they deserve more than their restrictive environment. Ivan’s range of thoughts and emotions poses important questions about kinship and humanity. (HarperCollins/Harper, 2012)

fergus_ortegaAfter special surgeries allow him to learn to talk, the titular gorilla of Maureen Fergus’s novel Ortega is raised to function as a human. When his social, emotional, and intellectual skills are similar to that of an eleven-year-old, he is sent to public school. People’s reactions to him raise moral questions about animal rights. A fast pace and excellent characterizations make for intriguing science fiction. (Kids Can/KCP Fiction, 2010)

watkins_what comes afterAfter her father’s death, sixteen-year-old Iris goes to live in North Carolina with her mean-spirited, abusive aunt and violent cousins in Steve Watkins’s What Comes After. When Iris, an animal lover, sets the farm goats free, her relationship with Aunt Sue comes to a violent head. Endearing characters and poignant themes populate the story, as Iris comes to terms with her loss and her passion. (Candlewick, 2011)



It's Our GardenFrom spring planting to winterization, George Ancona’s It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden chronicles a year in the life of an elementary school garden in Santa Fe; full-color photographs show students composting soil, watering plants, and sampling the edible delights. While green is visually ubiquitous, the real star is the white space, which keeps each spread from becoming crowded. Ancona’s no-nonsense text is perfectly suited for newly independent readers. (Candlewick, 2013)

gourley_first gardenFirst Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew, Robbin Gourley’s discussion of Michelle Obama’s creation of a vegetable garden on the White House lawn, is framed by a brief history of other gardens at the White House. Loose-handed watercolor illustrations depict a place that’s full of life. A foreword by chef Alice Waters and a series of recipes are included. (Clarion, 2011)

katzen_salad peopleMollie Katzen’s cookbook Salad People and More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers & Up is attractive, creative, and easy to use, with an ingenious format: printed recipes for adults and pictorial directions for preschoolers. The twenty vegetarian dishes are nutritious (low-fat and low-sugar) yet kid-appealing (“Sunrise Lemonade,” “Counting Soup”). Healthy eating, enjoyment of the cooking process, and parent-child togetherness are all promoted here. (Tricycle/Ten Speed Press, 2005)

katzen_honest pretzelsWith recipes ranging from basic (scrambled eggs, tossed salad) to more involved (homemade salsa, apple pockets), Katzen serves up a reader-friendly vegetarian cookbook for primary-aged children in Honest Pretzels: And 64 Other Amazing Recipes for Cooks Ages 8 and Up. Designed for kids to take the lead in the cooking process, the large, well-laid-out instructions place each step in its own numbered box, visually cued with Katzen’s colored pencil icons. Safety is strongly emphasized throughout. (Tricycle/Ten Speed Press, 1999; new edition 2009)

laidlaw_on paradeAnimal rights advocate Rob Laidlaw exposes backstage conditions of animals in entertainment, from live animal shows to circus acts and movies in On Parade: The Hidden World of Animals in Entertainment. The admittedly agenda-driven text’s examples of neglect and abuse combine with photographs and sidebars to underscore the message that animal lovers have an obligation — and the ability — to create change; suggestions for action, FAQs, and an “Organizations to Contact” list provide tools. (Fitzhenry, 2010)

laidlaw_wild animals in captivityAccessible text and often heartbreaking photographs of elephants, great apes, and other animals juxtapose their behavior and lifestyle in the wild and in captivity in Laidlaw’s previous book Wild Animals in Captivity. The author’s own feelings are clear, and his approach offers readers empowerment: what to look for in zoo animal quality of life and ten ways to help (e.g., contact animal protection agencies to report poor conditions). (Fitzhenry, 2008)

rabinowitz_boy and a jaguarA Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz is an unusual picture book autobiography of an animal scientist who began his lifelong interest in big cats when he found he could communicate more easily with animals than with people due to his stuttering. Rabinowitz’s commitment to petitioning for wildlife conservation has helped him communicate more comfortably. This accessible story, with quietly emotive, impressionistic art by Catia Chien, will help children understand both concerns. (Houghton, 2014)

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.



  1. They’re tough ones (not only for kids, but for adults, too), but I recommend books by Ruby Roth, starting with THAT’S WHY WE DON’T EAT ANIMALS. Beautifully illustrated, deeply moving, thoughtful, and discussion-provoking.

    VEGAN IS LOVE is even tougher because it goes to the next level. V IS FOR VEGAN is cute and not as heavy, but still brings up the discussion points.

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