Will Children’s Book Publisher Use Personal Pronouns for Animals?

PETA Asks Usborne Publishing to Foster Empathy for Animals in Young Readers by Updating Popular Series With Inclusive Language

For Immediate Release:
June 25, 2019

Megan Wiltsie 202-483-7382

Norfolk, Va.

PETA sent a letter requesting that U.K.-based Usborne Publishing modernize the language in its beloved children’s book series That’s Not My to refer to animals (who are living, feeling individuals) as “he” or “she” instead of using the inanimate pronoun “it.”

“Words matter, and referring to animals as objects only serves to widen the perceived but nonexistent gulf between us and them,” says PETA Senior Director Marta Holmberg. “PETA is encouraging this leader in children’s literature to do right by animals and young readers by using language that shows respect for every living, feeling being.”

Just last year, PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to abuse in any way”—encouraged people to consider the power of words through a viral campaign aiming to end the use of idioms connoting cruelty to animals. The group opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview.

For more information, please visit PETAKids.com.

PETA’s letter to Usborne Publishing Deputy Managing Director Nicola Usborne follows.

June 10, 2019

Nicola Usborne

Deputy Managing Director Usborne Publishing

Dear Ms. Usborne,

I’m writing both as a mother and on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and PETA UK and our more than 8.5 million members and supporters combined worldwide, including many in the United Kingdom, with regard to Usborne Publishing’s much-loved That’s Not My … children’s book series. We applaud Fiona Watt’s award-winning work, which has undoubtedly sparked children’s interest in animals worldwide. To ensure that this interest develops into empathy, we urge editors to update the series to refer to animal characters using the personal pronouns “he” and “she” rather than the inanimate “it.” As you know, words matter. The wrong choice of words can send a mixed message to even the youngest of readers about the relationship between humans and other animals and the importance of empathy.

The way we talk about animals must adapt to reflect a more modern understanding of them. By making this change, you would be encouraging your readers and their families to think about the language they use and how it might perpetuate negative attitudes toward animals. For example, as the series currently exists, animal characters such as the frog, hamster, and lamb share the pronoun “it” with the tractor and car, suggesting that the animals are inanimate objects rather than living beings with feelings. Teaching children from a young age to use inclusive language is one step toward a feeling of empathy for all sentient beings.

My baby daughter received a copy of That’s Not My Elephant, and she loves to explore each page as I read the words to her. However, as I’m reading, I say, “His feet are too squashy” or “Her tail is too tufty”—as I want my daughter to grow up knowing that animals are not inanimate objects—they are not “its”—and there are many parents today who feel this way.

It’s time to raise our standards of compassion so that children will understand that all animals are living, feeling beings just like they are—not things. Because you’re a leader in children’s literature, we urge you and your staff to begin referring to animals as animate beings—”he” and “she”—in all future publications. By providing all animal characters in the That’s Not My … series with equal status, regardless of their species, Usborne will help nurture a kinder, more compassionate generation of readers and set an important and vital example for the rest of the publishing world.

Thank you for your consideration. I hope to hear from you soon.


Marta Holmberg

Senior Director

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