When I saw photos of the emaciated and diseased tigers kept in small caged pens in China’s “tiger parks,” places such as the Xiongshen Tiger and Bear Mountain Village in Guilin, China, I knew this was something I wanted to work to change. I decided to write
a book about it right away.
I didn’t want to give children nightmares, and I didn’t want it to be shunned by parents, teachers, and librarians as preachy. My aim was simply to reach as many children as
possible and make them aware of this problem. So I decided to embed my discussion of the plight of these tigers in the nonfiction back-matter notes of Once Upon A Tiger, a whimsical collection of “pourquoi tale poems” about the tiger and eight other endangered
animals. After years of traditional publishing, it was my first venture into the world of artisanal publishing.
My hope was to inspire children to wonder about these animals. If, because of their wondering, they want to learn more, that would be perfect. But if they simply enjoy the poems, that would be all right, too. Here is the title poem:
Once upon a Time…
there was a Lion
who was strong as fire,
and very, very hungry.
Why share one zebra
when I can eat a hundred?
While the others slept,
she devoured a whole herd,
stripe by stripe.
The next morning
she was covered in stripes.
She scratched off her fur.
Her skin was marked, too.
The other lions knew
where the zebras had gone.
They stripped her name away.
She was cut off from the pride.
An arrow, orange with fire,
burned north beyond the sky.
That is where they sent her,
the zebra-eater of lion legend—
way back when,
once upon a Tiger.
After the ebook was published, young readers from all over the world sent me their poems inspired by it.
I believe strongly in publishing projects as tools for developing social responsibility in students while also raising funds for charities. Writing about the wrongs that they have seen or read or heard about is an empowering real-world exercise that will build their writing and critical thinking skills. It’s not very difficult to create a print-on-demand paperback, and it’s almost as easy to create an ebook (see my instructions).
My friends tease me about being an evangelist for publishing fundraisers. But consider: isn’t it more exciting and meaningful for students to sell their own cause-inspired writing rather than wrapping paper, magazines, or the world’s maybe-not-so-finest chocolate?
Janet Wong is the author of 30 books for children. Her poetry has been featured in venues as diverse as the White House, The Oprah Winfrey Show, and the NYC subways. Learn more about Once Upon A Tiger: New Beginnings for Endangered Animals and Janet’s other books at www.janetwong.com.