Through art, philosophy, science and storytelling, humans have attempted to understand their essential but frequently paradoxical connection to the rest of the animal world. In an insightful new book for teens, One Kingdom: Our Lives with Animals, Deborah Noyes examines the ways our lives have overlapped with animals and how the human-animal bond has affected our culture. Noyes begins by explaining how early humans had both a practical and spiritual bond with animals, depending upon them for their very survival as sources of food, clothing, shelter and tools, and thus elevating them to a sacred status. The loss of this dependency and intimacy has resulted in the separation of mankind from the rest of the animal kingdom. The more we distance ourselves from animals, the more difficult it is to know them, Noyes argues. She notes that there’s little benefit and much to lose in positioning ourselves outside nature. Our awe and fear of some animals coupled with our sentimental affection for others has shaped beliefs, myths and superstitions in every culture. Noyes shows how animals have figured prominently in fables and folktales, helping to convey cultural mores, traditions and values.
A former zookeeper herself, the author gives careful consideration to the ethics of keeping animals in captivity. The zoo presents a paradox, she says: It provides an opportunity to bring humans and animals together, but the meaningfulness of their interaction is suspect because of the artificial environment.
Noyes acknowledges the difficulty, perhaps even the impossibility, of knowing animals, but challenges her young adult audience to never stop trying better understanding of what it means to be an animal will inevitably lead us to better understanding of what it means to be human. Teens who love animals and especially those with an interest in animal rights will find Noyes’ provocative book both fascinating and compelling.