The journalist and nonfiction author Elina Lappalainen has written about livestock production before. In 2012, she won the most respected Finnish prize for nonfiction, the Tieto-Finlandia, with her book about how our food has lived its life. Now she has taken on the same topic, namely, livestock production, and written a picture book for children about it. The Finlandia Junior-winning illustrator and children’s author Christel Rönns has illustrated the book and the result is a balanced work of nonfiction.
The book introduces modern farm life and livestock production from the point of view of Aleksi and his cousin Emilia. Emilia’s father is a veterinary physician who takes the children with him on his visits to look at the farm animals. They visit a dairy farm, a pig farm, a hen house and a chicken farm. In the beginning of the book, Aleksi is very suspicious about the whole trip: “I don’t want to go to a stinky pig farm!” he blusters.
Children get to see different kinds of modern farms and farmers as well as farm animals and their living conditions. For example, they are introduced to a milking robot and small piglets. Text boxes provide the reader with additional information: what happens to bull calves and what kind of a nest a chicken needs. In addition, different farm animals are presented in detailed spreads where the vet tells even more about the animals and their needs. Illustrations describe the conditions and the anatomy of the animals in a very realistic manner. However, the animals are presented sympathetically, with human characteristics. This allows the reader to easily see whether they are happy or not.
Children’s books often romanticise the countryside. This book tends to be more realistic: it smells like manure, a milking robot does the milking of cows and chickens live in a huge hall. All the details are there. The book shows farms with animals in decent conditions, but it also highlights things that could be better. A couple of grievances are told by the farmer herself, which is a good solution. Sure she wants her animals to be well. When an egg farmer gives the children some eggs, she says: ”These are free-range eggs. I prefer to give you them. It makes me so happy to watch chickens outside.”
Livestock production really is not an easy subject for a children’s book. This book succeeds surprisingly well by being realistic without horrifying anyone. It gives the reader the freedom to think for themselves and to form their own views on the matter. Animals are presented as valuable beings whose welfare is a human responsibility. Giving up meat is not considered as the only option, but it does not have to be consumed every day. Indirectly, the book emphasizes the responsibility of the consumer. Producers produce the kind of meat consumers buy, what they opt for. As Emilia’s mother assures: “We only eat the meat of happy animals.”