Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Worst Book Ever Written

As you may know, my major is elementary education.  Because of this, many of my professors read books to us in class that we can use later in our classrooms.  Today one of my professors read this book:

The book is Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animals, People, and War by Yukio Tsuchiya.

Summary:  During World War II, Japanese officials decided that all of the "dangerous" animals at the Uneo Zoo in Tokyo, Japan needed to be killed.  Their reasoning was that if the zoo were to be bombed and the cages were ruined, the animals would not injure the people of Tokyo.  After killing many of the more dangerous animals, it was time to kill the three performing elephants at the zoo.  The elephants would not eat poisoned food, and their hides were too tough to puncture with needles, so they were starved to death.  It was a long and brutal death and although the zookeepers did not agree, they went along with it.  This book was based on a true story.

About halfway through reading the book, most of my classmates either had tears in their eyes or looks of disgust upon their faces.  Our professor recommended that we only read this books to fifth graders and above, and that the book could be used to show the other side of war.  Personally, I could never, ever, read this book to children.  I feel that it could possibly be used in upper levels (middle to high school) in a World War II unit, but even then, I probably couldn't read it.  The language of the book is horribly descriptive and the illustrations are even more vivid.

What upset me most of all was that my professor mentioned that she read the book to a classroom of students after many of their parents had been deployed in the Gulf War.  The purpose was to show them that negative effects of war.  I was shocked.  How could that be an appropriate use for this book???  When used in that context, it makes military men and women look like cruel elephant killers.  Is that the message we should give children about their parents?  Especially while their parents are deployed.  I understand that we should view both sides of every conflict, but I do not think that it was an appropriate time or place for it.  I also know that many people do not agree with wars, and you are entitled to your opinion.  However, I feel that my professor chose an inappropriate time and place to read this book.

What do you think?  Have you read the book?  Do you think my professor picked a good time to read the book?  Do you think that all books can be read at any time, or do you think that certain books should only be read at certain times?


  1. Oh my wow! I'm definitely very much against war but I have to agree with you that this is not appropriate for children. I would think it'd be okay for high school levels though. And while I'm against any war, they exist and we have to respect those that are involved doing what they think is right.
    The book is well put to use to educate on parts of wars people never even think of, but I would rather use it to bring up a chance for a class debate asking whether it was right to kill the elephants the way they did or if it had to be done at all.
    Great discussion topic for your blog and a class! I might use this :)

  2. Rachel, thank you for your input! I think it could definitely be used for high school students and I think that your ideas for debates on whether or not it was right to kill the elephants is an excellent idea. Another idea you could use as part of your discussion is that I read that in the Japanese version it said that the "official" reason was to protect Tokyo from being in danger of the animals, but the underlying reason was to show Japan that they were willing to give up anything (even people or animals) for the cause. You could maybe ask why it was included in the Japanese version, but not in the English version.

  3. Marissa, I could not agree with you more! I was absolutely shocked and disgusted as our teacher read that book aloud. I can't imagine reading it to children, much less children whose parents had recently been sent off to fight in the Gulf War. How insensitive! As teachers, part of our responsibility is to make sure our students feel safe and supported in our classrooms. I think that reading this book, especially in that situation, would have the opposite effect. However, I think that in a high school social studies class, this book could be incorporated in a less threatening way. I love the ideas in the comments above!