Breaking the Silence about the Animals We Eat

Representations of the Inherent Value of Nonhuman Animals in Children’s Picturebooks

  • Marianna Koljonen
Keywords: farmed animals, animal rights, inherent value, slaughter, picturebooks, Ulf Nilsson, Eva Eriksson, Teija Rekola, Timo Kästämä


Some 77 billion terrestrial animals are reared for human consumption globally every year. The moral implications of killing animals for food and the material conditions of these animals in intensive animal agriculture have seldom been discussed in children’s literature. The purpose of this article is to examine how these socially and culturally maintained silences are broken in two Nordic children’s picturebooks, Swedish Älskade lilla gris (Dear Little Pig, 1982) by Ulf Nilsson and Eva Eriksson and Finnish Kinkkulin jouluyllätys (Little Ham’s Christmas Surprise, 2010) by Teija Rekola and Timo Kästämä. The books’ pig protagonists are determined not to die, embodying the dualistic status inherent in the animality of farmed animals; they are subjects and objects, living beings and food-to-become. Further, this article explores the representation of the inherent value of so-called farmed animals and how it can be narrated-to-exist by concepts gleaned from Western animal rights philosophy, especially the capabilities approach by Martha Nussbaum. In the two books, inherent value is expressed in significantly different modes. Älskade lilla gris discusses multispecies families, autonomous animality, and emancipation, whereas Kinkkulin jouluyllätys uses a more traditional mode involving an anthropomorphic animal story, idyllic setting, and humanized subjectivity. Analysis focuses on the representation of nonhuman individuality, agency, sentience, animality, and interaction with humans. Both books present active and sentient individuals with varying degrees of animality. One celebrates its protagonist’s pighood but also contrasts it with the confined conditions of an animal industrial complex. The other employs a human-like pig protagonist on the run from his slaughterer and whose pighood is limited to his appearance and intended use. 

How to Cite
Koljonen, M. (2021). Breaking the Silence about the Animals We Eat: Representations of the Inherent Value of Nonhuman Animals in Children’s Picturebooks. Barnboken, 44.
Theme: Silence and Silencing in Children's Literature