In order to write her first children’s picture book, Leslie Crawford went deep into the minds of pigs.
A longtime magazine editor and writer, Crawford was used to doing research on her article topics. But launching into the world of pigs — how they live, how they think, and how they are treated — was new territory. Crawford couldn’t interview her subjects or talk to their friends. She couldn’t follow their daily adventures. Yet she needed to intuitively “feel” what a pig’s life was like since the main character in her recently published book is a pig that escapes from a truck taking him to the slaughterhouse.
“I tried to get myself in the head of a pig,” said Crawford, who lives in San Francisco and is a former editor for San Francisco Magazine and GreatSchools.com. “I really researched about pigs. They are remarkable creatures. I homed in on their ‘superpowers.’ Pigs’ superpowers are obviously their sense of smell.”
The result is Sprig, the Rescue Pig, the first in a series of children’s books highlighting the life of farm animals by Stone Pier Press, an environmental publishing house with a food focus. Crawford will be reading from the book Saturday at 4 p.m. at Mrs. Dalloway’s on College Avenue. The book is geared toward four to eight-year-olds, according to the publisher, although Crawford thinks older children would like it as well.
The book, beautifully illustrated by Sonja Stangl, shows Sprig on a crowded truck that is taking him and other unsuspecting pigs to the slaughterhouse. Suddenly Sprig smells something delicious — so delicious that he must have it. Sprig jumps out of the truck to find the source of the smell, launching him on a set of adventures that leads Sprig to Rory, a young girl who adopts him. Eventually, as he grows in size, Sprig moves to an animal rescue farm.
The children’s book reflects Crawford’s evolving career. She spent decades writing and editing non-fiction. She co-founded Urban Putt, the incredibly popular indoor miniature golf course/restaurant/bar in the Mission District in San Francisco. And 15 years ago, she got involved with bringing a farmers market to Noe Valley. That effort thrust her into the politics of the sustainable food movement and the questions surrounding industrialized food and the treatment of animals.
Five years ago, inspired by learning how smart pigs are and how inhumanely most animals are treated, Crawford became a vegetarian. She also started to raise chickens at home and now has a menagerie that includes five foster pigeons and a bearded dragon. While Crawford said she tries not to judge omnivores (although she is still trying to wean her kids from bacon), the more she learned about the environmental impact of eating meat, the more determined she became to get that message out. While Sprig the Rescue Pig stays away from the harsh details of industrialized farming, the book helps readers see pigs as much more than delicious strips of bacon.
“What I’m trying to suggest in my book … is that a pig is worthy of our respect,” Crawford wrote in an article about how to talk to kids about eating meat. “Pigs are affectionate, curious, and playful. They can be taught to play video games, perform all kinds of tricks, and come when called. They are, in fact, very much like dogs.”
Even though the book is about 2,000 words long (which is about twice as long as most children’s picture books) Crawford said it took her months to write and rewrite the story. She had help from her children, Gideon, 20, and Molly, 13. In the book’s original incarnation, Sprig was going to be adopted by a hip but nerdy tech guy wandering through the forest. But Molly and her best friend nixed that idea, telling Crawford that the character seemed creepy. They suggested that a girl and her mother become Sprig’s caretakers. Crawford accepted the suggestion.
The publisher has plugged the book as being based on a true story. Crawford said there have been numerous instances of factory farm pigs escaping trucks bringing them to a slaughterhouse.
Sprig has been embraced by many vegetarian and vegan parents who are looking for picture books that honor the lives of animals over killing them for food.
Crawford has already completed the second book in the series, tentatively titled Gwen the Rescue Hen. She plans a third book on cows.