Thursday, November 22, 2018

Review - Arlene Sardine

Arlene Sardine
by Chris Raschka
Date: 1998
Publisher: Open Road Media Young Readers
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 40
Format: e-book
Source: library

So, you want to be a sardine?

Once there was a fish named Arlene, who wanted to be a sardine. She wanted to be a sardine just like the silvery, salty fish that you see in those little tins at the grocery store. With the bold brushstrokes of his vibrant illustrations, Chris Raschka follows Arlene’s journey from a fjord to a big net to a briny bath aboard a fishing boat. And he reveals just how to get packed like a sardine!

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book falls squarely into the "What were they thinking?" category. All it does is perpetuate the idea that animals are only here to be killed for humans to eat, and even worse, that food is what they aspire to be. The story was one of the most macabre, disturbing, and gruesome ones I've read, and not because of the subject matter. (Even as a vegan, I found the facts interesting. The process of making sardines is explained with the proper terminology, which might appeal to kids who want to know all about how things work.) No, what disturbed me was the way Arlene was introduced, anthropomorphized, and then brutally killed. The book talks about her swimming around in the net until her stomach is empty, then getting pulled out of the sea with all her friends and sent to a factory... where the real horror begins. All of it is painted in a positive light, from the smoking to the canning to the cooking (this book actually tries to make being sealed and cooked in a can look like a good thing). Even worse, the author continually interjects with stupid comments about the dead fish's thoughts and feelings:

I'll bet Arlene felt well rested on the conveyor belt.


I wonder if Arlene was a little nervous for the final inspection.

No, Arlene doesn't feel anything. She doesn't feel well rested or nervous. She can't, because she's dead. Any emotions she might've had were taken away so someone could have a snack. I find it really appalling that this book is trying to gloss over the killing aspect, implying that Arlene is still alive to think and feel. Maybe the author/publisher thought they could get away with this because it was just a fish, but I can't imagine that a story about a cow who wanted to become a steak--which then goes into all the details of the slaughter, and then makes the steak sentient and happy to be a dead slab of meat--would go over very well.

One star for the factual information about how sardines are made. But the rest is just so, so wrong.

Premise: 0/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 0/5
Illustrations: 2/5
Originality: 1/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 0.5 out of 5

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