By Patricia Schonstein
The Phoebe Book of Poems for Children opens with an important directive from Phoebe, our ambassador for animal rights: ‘Be kind to all creatures, great and small’.
Our Story Weaver, Patricia, took this message to the Sunflower Library at Zonnebloem Girls’ Primary, and Liyabona Library at Holy Cross Convent in District Six, Cape Town, where she performed poems from this special book.
Both these libraries, funded by the Otto Foundation, are bright amazing places full of ‘I want to read’ energy and headed up by dedicated librarians. At each library, Story Weaver felt she was in a little theatre, with a very attentive audience.
None of the children she read to had ever seen a real wild African animal. But they had met lions and cheetahs and elephants in picture books. And now, they were hearing poems about them. They listened to poems about owls, snakes and pangolins, creatures they had also never seen.
Most of the children owned a dog or a cat at home, so they knew how special an animal is. We spoke about how to care for a pet, ensuring they are fed each day and that there is always water for them to drink.
Story Weaver read lots of poems. The favourite poems of the day were ‘We are Big Cats’ and ‘The Simple Way’. The favourite line was ‘Make Joy!’ and this was shouted out loud by all the children.
How best can we teach children to be kind not only to each other, but especially to animals? Through example, yes. Children must see adults being courteous and good in their social interactions and in the way they themselves care for animals.
Poems are also an exciting, easy way to raise awareness about animals. The rhyme and rhythm make it easy for children to remember to be aware and to care:
‘Hurt no living thing—
Puppy dog nor cat that miaows,
Nor owl with nightly call,
Nor flowering plant with petals soft,
Nor trees which shade,
Nor singing frogs,
Nor lovely birds that sing.’