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Topic: What's with killing off animals in books??

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Subject: What's with killing off animals in books??
Date Posted: 8/6/2009 10:52 AM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2006
Posts: 14,634
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I was thinking the other day about the forced reading I had to do in school and books teachers read to us and movies we watched. I've always been bothered with sad books or books with death/suffering and it seems like I was forced to read/watch way too many. Was this popular back in the day or something??

for instance - I'm 42 - and our 'treat/reward' was once a year going to the school auditorium and suffering through Old Yeller. I hated watching that movie because of, well, you know what happened!

A teacher read Charlotte's Web to us (that one I actually liked in spite of the sad part)Another book was  Sounder. hated this one and it was sad with the dog. Where the Red Fern Grows ranked up there with teh worst and still glad that test was open book 'cause I didn't read it. Then had to read The Red Pony and I was in total disbelief at what happened there. (I was so used to a HEA and miracles happening in a book)

fast forward to high school and it's Animal Farm(ok theanimals were acting like people but I still remember the horse being sent to the glue factory and will never forget that scene)

I tell ya...it's a wonder I wasn't in therapy before college having to listen and read and watch all these! And we had no warning whatsoever what was gonna happen in the book. At least the movie we knew the stupid kid would end up causing the dog to get killed. the others I was just sitting here in shock..once I got an inking of Where the Red Fern Grows was going I stopped reading it.

I think Black Beauty is the only other book Iliked in spite of an animal dying being mentioned.

Why was this trend so popular? why not kill off people instead of the animals?

Date Posted: 8/7/2009 7:33 AM ET
Member Since: 8/10/2005
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Well...probably because most animals do have a shorter lifespan than people, so it's natural that at some point in time, most people will have to deal with the death of a pet or other beloved animal. It's reality. Movies and books exist for a variety of reasons--entertainment, education, to make us think and ponder, to give us vicarious experiences, whatever. Most movies and books involve death or loss of some sort. There has to be some conflict or some sadness to offset the 'happy ending' or the good things that happen along the way,,,or it would be (IMO anyway) an awfully boring and totally unrealistic.

Quote: Why was this trend so popular? why not kill off people instead of the animals?


Ohhhhkay. That'll work.


Date Posted: 8/7/2009 9:48 AM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2006
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I guess I just tend to read (even now!) lighter stuff..I prefer light and funny over the deep and dark. At the time it really felt like all our 'forced reading' had books that dealt not just with the death of animals but violence..maybe Charlotte's Web didnt' bother me so much because it was from old age..but Sounder the dog was shot and suffering. Maybe it's the suffering more than anything. I don't know. But at that age I really didn't know much about death and I had actually been to more funerals than most..my grandma stayed with us babysitting and had lots of friends who were older so that meant funerals. But I remember it being 'glossed over' as nothing and never discussed really since that wasn't the 'main point' fo the story I suppose but I've always loved animals, esp dogs and horses, and those stories bothered me the most, esp if they were a tad more descriptive.

I suppose it seemed like a trend to me since most of the assigned reading had that in them. and yep, I prefer animals to most people LOL!

thanks that explains a lot though to have the drama and conflict..stuff I try to avoid usually!

Last Edited on: 8/7/09 9:48 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 8/7/2009 11:27 AM ET
Member Since: 12/26/2008
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I once *voluntarily* read a book called The Day No Pigs Would Die. It's a kid's book.

I thought it would be this great animal welfare sort of book.

Um.....no. It was about a kid on a farm. A pig farm. So....you're thinking that he saves pigs and stuff.

The reason no pigs would die?

Wait for it.....wait for it.....

His dad died. LOL!

Date Posted: 8/7/2009 11:58 AM ET
Member Since: 6/28/2007
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I can't help but agree with you, Susanna.  I hated reading those books, so  much that I've actually repressed several of them although I remember being made to read them.  The Red Pony was awful - yes, yes, great American writer and all, but all of Steinbeck's books make me want to have a drink and go to bed.

I remember reading that Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty to sensitize readers to the plight of animals and the concept of animal cruelty.  It works the best with children, who can empathize more easily (?).  Perhaps that's what writers and teachers are all trying to do?  Strengthen a kid's sense of compassion and responsibility towards others, starting with animals that are fluffy and don't tease? 

We are grown up (allegedly) now and a lot of what is supposed to be good literature for adults is heart-droppingly grim or painfully sad.  Now I'm sitting here trying to think of an example because I've been refusing to read it lately...okay, Lolita, The Satanic Verses, Sula.  These are great important books and beautifully written, but they just broke my heart to read.  Maybe it's a simliar concept.

Plenty of people died too in all those children's books, now that I think of it.  In A Little Princess it's the father, Bride to Terabithia it's the best friend, Anne of Green Gables it's Matthew.  Wonder why those traumatized me less - at least for those I can remember the plots.


Date Posted: 8/7/2009 12:00 PM ET
Member Since: 10/13/2007
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Because it is easier for people to exept an animal dying then a human.  It is also one way for people to learn about death and how to deal with it.
Death IS a main theme in Charlotte's web, the pig was going to be sent off to the market and the spider saves Wilber and he becomes "Some Pig". The spider dies YES but the point is her children live on in her memory.

I too did not like Old Yeller, have only seen it twice in my life.

Death happens in alot of Classic stories but its meant to be how people go on afterwards that is the point of the story.

I see alot of those books as how those animals enriched that persons life, and that life is NOT fair. 
Plus it is trying to show how important animals are in peoples lives and that they do have worth.

I was about the only one that was rather happy when Romeo and Juliette died, sorry but I did not find that story romantic like most of the girls in my class. Tragic, mmmm kinda, pathetic YES totally. Why not just run away!

Date Posted: 8/7/2009 2:12 PM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2006
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I think Black Beauty wasn't as bad - I cried about Ginger but didn't refuse to read the book again. Sounder really bothered me. Island of the Blue Dolphins had death in it..heck Where the Lilies Bloom had death but that didnt bother me at all..guess because I didn't 'know' the character.

I liked A Little Princess but never read the book -just watched Shirley Temple(and that's on my list to buy eventually or put on my Christmas list) and seems like the dad's alive at the end isn't he?

didn't care a darn for Romeo and Juliette either..think MacBeth is the only shakespeare I liked in high school.

Date Posted: 8/17/2009 11:00 AM ET
Member Since: 1/12/2009
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Add the Yearling to books they make children read where the pet dies (and at the hand of the child).  I remember reading Where the Red Fern Grows in 4th or 5th grade and I read ahead because I tended to do that.  I cried and cried when I reached the end and had to wait over a week for the class to catch up.  I was so upset about doing assignments because I knew how the book ended.  It was awful.

Side note: Macbeth was my favorite Shakespeare play from high school, but that was partially because we all decided that he was suffering from syphillus.

Date Posted: 8/25/2009 1:30 AM ET
Member Since: 7/24/2005
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I don't like all the books mentioned here - but Where the Red Fern Grows and Black Beauty were two of my favorites. Yes, very sad, but still great stories. I wonder if these kinds of things are told in stories to help us develop an understanding of these difficult things in life. Even before books, stories were told verbally that often had sad outcomes. I am also an animal lover - own a horse, a dog and other misc critters. It is real world that animals are mistreated. It is real world that they die often at the hands of people.
Date Posted: 8/25/2009 3:28 AM ET
Member Since: 7/31/2006
Posts: 14,634
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Maybe I'd have enjoyed it more if it had been explained to me..the teacher with Where the Red Fern Grows actually laughe at us sniffing over the book(were reading in class part of the time) like it was funny to her (still don't like that woman to this day) but death really wasn't discussed much at my  house - my brother and I went to al ot of funerals due ot my grandma keeping us in the summer and she had a lot of older friends..but it wasn't something openly discussed and I never learned how to cope I guess. At least with charlotte's web it was natural and even the teacher reading it was teary eyed along with the rest of us. I've gotten to where I automatically assume the animal will die if I see one on the cover of the book! well unless it's a series about Hank the cowdog or something like that.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's depressing and distressing to read about death, even an animal, and not understand what's going on.

Date Posted: 8/25/2009 8:01 PM ET
Member Since: 2/5/2007
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Death is a part of life.   Sadness is a part of life.   I don't read books only about happy people, do you?  Would you expect your children's books to never have conflict or death in them?      I don't think we can protect our children from life's harsh realities and books are a good place for them to see those realities.   I think books can teach children that losing a loved one is sad but that life goes on and even gets better again after such a death.

Date Posted: 8/26/2009 2:23 AM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2008
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I remember in the 7th grade reading a book and thne watching a movie about a group of kids that were out in the west and they tried to stop a buffalo hunt and one of them died I wish I could remember the book and the movie.  I grew up on a fram and so did 75% of the kids in the small town I went to school in. So death of the lifestock and pets was not that new to us but this book and movie put it in to a ood point of view for me.  That at the time you could stand up and try and do some thing to say to the grown ups (now that i'm one) this is wrong.  I wish I could think of that book (help)

It's funny in a way when we did watch a movie in school it was one of the sounder, red fren, yeller movies us farm kids as tough as we thought we were cryed and let it out but only with the dog movies..  If a pig or cow or chicken something like that of a cowboy has to put down his horse we underdstood that this is the way.. It just has to be this way, but the town kids they was crying..  Funny kinda now 20 years later watching the kids watch some of these movies or reading the books to them at bed time and seeing the love that is building for the Horse or Pig.  Got to love kids.

I tend to read Cozy's, I dont want to deal with a dog or horse or whatever getting killed or hurt.. grown soft i guess after moving off the farm..

This book thing is killing me help please


Date Posted: 8/26/2009 9:54 PM ET
Member Since: 3/31/2006
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Susanna, I can't deal with it either.  When I was a kid I was quite disturbed by Old Yeller, Bambi, and others.  It seemed like there was never a story when the animal survived.  They manipulate you emotional and then they are killed.

I usually don't read books where the animal is the main character because invariable something awful happens to them.

Incidentally, one of my young relatives is very sensitive.  In elementary school, she was becoming so distraught by the reading material that her parents had to talk to the teacher and find alternative books to read.  She wasn't a naive child.  She had been through death of people and animals a few times in her short life.  But, she is very sensitive.  I was glad the teacher was willing to supply an alternative list before she decided she hated reading.

Date Posted: 8/31/2009 4:59 PM ET
Member Since: 4/3/2008
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Melody, she may have been having more problems because she'd actually faced death in her own family.

I believe that these stories exist for the same reason that the words to lullabies are so brutal... they are a way to try and gently prepare kids for the real world, and in the real world people and animals get hurt and die.

Doesn't it seem like the older the story or song the more forceful the death?  I think it's because in the old days, kids would have to deal with the death of a parent or sibling at a much younger age than we do now.

Date Posted: 9/19/2009 1:25 PM ET
Member Since: 9/15/2009
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I remember crying my eyes out when our teacher read us Where the Red Fern Grows back in 4th grade. The whole class cried like crazy.

As for the literary merits, it's a quick and easy way to create tradgedy. In some books (Where the Red Fern Growns, Charlotte's Web) it is necessary for the storyline and for the whole point of the book, but for others I think it is a cheap trick that authors use when they can't create real tradgedy.

In other ways, I would agree that these things may help kids to cope with death and to understand it.

Date Posted: 9/19/2009 4:50 PM ET
Member Since: 9/8/2007
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I completely agree Susanna. As a child I enjoyed a Haley Mills movie or a Jerry Lewis movie but PLEASE don't make me go see the sad animal ones.

I never encouraged my kids to read that type either, I just always thought it was so awful to read something that sad. The Velveteen Rabbit nearly ruined

a Christmas when the minister told the story on Christmas Eve. 

I'm still a softie when it comes to animals. The trend continues, I refuse to see Marley and Me. 

Date Posted: 11/25/2009 4:28 PM ET
Member Since: 6/16/2008
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I have lots of animals and have to deal with sickness & death far too often. It's always been like that - my homes have always been pet sanctuaries and being exposed to it from an early age doesn't ever inure you to it. I avoid it like the plague in books & movies. It's not entertainment, it's real life - that horrible euthanasia appt. at the vet's after a slow decline, or the sudden decision thrust upon you because of a freak medical condition.

Gah, I hate even thinking about it. :(

Date Posted: 11/25/2009 5:14 PM ET
Member Since: 2/17/2009
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Did anyone read Lost and Found by Jacqueline Sheenan?  Please PM me if you know if the dog dies.  I just ordered this book but now I'm afraid to read it. 

I agree books are too sad!  I would be heartbroken if I read this book and the dog dies at the end.  Please help,

Date Posted: 2/3/2010 1:12 PM ET
Member Since: 11/18/2006
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NO MORE DEAD DOGS is a book that is all about the fact that so many pets die in book! FUN TWEEN BOOK!

Subject: Re: Lost and Found
Date Posted: 2/5/2010 3:18 PM ET
Member Since: 2/28/2009
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No the dog does not die.  It actually has a good ending (sort of).

But to add to the thread.  Because I can't stand mistreating animals I had to skip all the animal abuse parts in 'Water for The Elephants".  I still got the story but my heart was bleeding for Rosie.

Subject: Warning: Spoilers for children's classics ahead
Date Posted: 2/6/2010 11:24 PM ET
Member Since: 12/30/2009
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I always thought Old Yeller was a weird one because the film actually handles the death in a gentler manner than the book.  In the film they know the dog has been bitten and shut him up to see if he's infected.  They only kill him when they know for sure.  In the book they decide they can't wait because the little brother won't understand to stay away from the dog, so they kill him right away.  Granted, he was probably infected, but there was always a chance the wolf wasn't rabid. I always thought that was really harsh.

A reverse example is My Side of the Mountain.  In the book the falcon lives- in the film not so much and the death just comes out of no where.    I can remember sobbing when we watched that at school and having to go home for the rest of the day. 

Where the Fern Grows has to be the absolute pinnacle of these types of books though.  The male dog doesn't just die- he gets his intestines tangled in the underbrush while trying to follow his master home.  Not to mention the kid who impales himself on an axe blade.  I'm all for letting kids handle tough subjects, but that book reads like a doggy slasher film toward the end.

Date Posted: 2/21/2010 1:42 AM ET
Member Since: 1/17/2010
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I don't remember every watching movies like Old Yeller in school, most of what we did watch were ones that promoted pride in country, the responsibility to do your part as a good citizen. I don't remember any specific movie, except one where Red Buttons took the Pledge of Allegiance and broke it down and explained each part. What it really meant when you said those words.

I think a lot of it depends on where you were raised, what you were exposed to. Did you grow up in the country, around critters that were seen as food? Or in a city setting where you didn't see death on a regular basis.

As for books that showed the death of animals, I grew up in an area that death of animals was a part of life; so don't get me wrong, but I never saw the death of the animals in storiesas a big deal, what stood out to me was the other aspects. In Old Yeller the boy had to do a man's job, he had to kill the dog he loved to protect his family. Yes, he lost his best friend, the dog that filled a void in his life with his dad gone.In the end it worked out, his dad came home, he saw the young girl in a different light, life continues on with a pup of Old Yeller.So in a way he hadn't totally lost the dog because a part of him lived on in the pup.

Bambi is a story that many of us see as a kids story, but it was written first for adults. The goal was to teach adults about cruelty to animals. At the time the book was written there were no set hunting seasons, so I think the author wanted hunters to think of the consequences of killing a doe that had a"baby". The wrongness of taking a wild animal and taming it, then turning it lose in the wild. The animal would have no fear of man and would then be easy prey. That was cruelty, it would have been better to have killed the fawn then and there instead of what did happen.

When the story became a favorite to read to children, it taught many lessons in lifeand made it easier to learn a subtle way.That there is loss that can happen unexpectedly. That when we are left alone, there will be someone to help take care of us (I don't remember who took over raising Bambi). That life isn't easy and there are good times and bad times. The book taught the lesson of fighting for what you want; in Bambi's case for the doe he fell in love with. If you want something bad enough you have to fight for it. Friendships are important, but family is more important and even that will end someday as kids grow up and leave home.

The Yearling taught, again, that you don't take something out of anenvironment and try to change it, the deer couldn't be expected to understand he couldn't eat the food in the garden. By doing so, you harmed the deer and so the deer had to suffer from your refusal to accept the facts of life. Deer are not pets, wild animals are not pets. Domesticated animals are not be be made into pets. That calf, pig or other animal is going to grow up to be butchered for meat, that deer you see feeding in the field is going to be shot for its meat. The rabbit that was trapped is not Thumper so get over it. Those were the cold facts of life that I was raised with.

It sounds cruel, but life is cruel, so you enjoy what you can. Remember the good times and continue on with your life. Take care of the animals that depend on you, you can even like them but realize that you will lose them someday.

As for the title of the book about the buffalo, I think the name is Bless the Beast and the Children. Good book.

Before you think I am a cruel person who must not care for animals, I love them and suffer from the loss of my dogs. I still miss Brownie, she was a good dog who protected us kids, she attacked a man who tried to give us some candy that was discovered to have drugs in it (that was over 30 years ago). We buried five years ago Obe, a Sheltie we had for 17 years. I still feel the loss ofboth of them, still mourn their passing, but that is life. Iknow thatGypsy, my terrier who is 15years old will die soon rather than later; it may not be for afour or more years, but it will be soon, andI know I will miss her, cry over her passing,but again, that is life.

Enjoy the good times, the love the boy had for Old Yeller, the bond they shared. The lessons learned from these movies, books that can help us when we are adults to deal with life, all the losses and disappointments we will suffer. You can't appreciate the good without experiencing the bad.