A case for empathy

March 12, 2023

A heart-wrenching story about a little dog who, despite his hardships, doesn’t stop believing in himself

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nimals can teach us empathy and are a beautiful part of our lives. They can become loving beings when surrounded by joy, laughter and unconditional love. However, being subject to cruelty and unkindness can leave them miserable and emotionally scarred. With these thoughts in mind, I picked up the book Wolfie to read to my son, who shares my love for animals.

Written by Sonya Rehman, an arts and culture journalist, Wolfie is a heart-wrenching story about a helpless dog who endures spite and malice at a farm in Lahore. He manages one day to escape, taking his mistreated friends with him. While the book is aimed at 9-year-olds and older children, it is a touching read that will also resonate with adults. As a reader, I try not to judge a book by its cover, but Wolfie’s bright, beautifully illustrated cover was too enticing to resist. The illustrations are delightful and colourful, with just enough detail to complement the well-written story.

A valuable addition to any child’s bookshelf, the book intelligently touches upon essential life skills such as emotional management and social responsibility. By addressing these topics in a relatable and engaging manner, the book helps children develop a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.

After reading this book, I was left with a sense of hope and optimism but a heavy heart at how animals are treated in our country. Many of them go hungry on the streets, enduring deplorable conditions, while others are euthanised or left to roam without shelter. Countless pets suffer silently as their owners mistreat them, leaving them emotionally scarred and taxed. The book sheds light on critical issues and encourages readers to develop a greater understanding of and empathy for animals.

While the book’s core theme emphasises the value of every living being, that is just one of its many important lessons. The book’s intriguing anecdotes highlight the unique blessings bestowed upon each living creature and how these invaluable gifts combine to create a delectable dish rich with courage, kindness and love. Through these stories, readers are encouraged to appreciate and celebrate life’s diversity and cultivate a more profound sense of compassion and empathy towards living beings.

While the book effectively highlights the issue of animal cruelty, it also touches on the broader concept of physical and emotional abuse. Children, like animals, can also experience abuse at the hands of parents, teachers, friends and strangers. This can take many forms, including bullying, peer pressure, rejection and abandonment. After finishing the book, I was left with a powerful sense of the importance of kindness, nurture and love. In a world that often seems chaotic and fractured, these qualities can serve as a silver lining, helping broken and abandoned individuals heal and grow into joyful beings. We can create a brighter, more compassionate world for all by prioritising our humanity.

According to Rehman, the driving force behind writing the book was a desire to create an uplifting and magical story for children that would sensitise them and their parents to animal empathy. As an animal lover, she sees writing about animals as a powerful tool for shaping young minds and changing destinies. “Books have the power to rewire the brain,” she says. “When you read something that resonates with your soul, it can make a lasting impact.” While writing Wolfie, Rehman constantly thought about how readers would feel after reading the book. Even if it only makes a difference to a handful of young minds, she says, it will have been worth it.

Wolfie gave me a thought-provoking message that hopefully will also impact other readers in a similar way. I would like to see more Pakistani publishers taking the lead in producing children’s books that are relevant to Pakistani readers. The book’s publisher, Mehr Husain, has no qualms about publishing children’s literature. She expects a general understanding of the kid-lit market and recognition that children today have different needs. According to Husain, Rehman’s vast experience working with children and knowledge of content and aesthetics made her the perfect author to bring Wolfie to life. The book’s cover, illustrated by Maryam Akram, wonderfully represents the story’s relatable characters and their arcs, which deal with issues many children face today. While the Pakistani market has room to grow, Wolfie has set a new standard. It’s up to other publishers and authors to follow suit.

Husain’s comment on today’s children is significant. They will be the ones responsible for the world in the next 25 years. As they grow older, they will have more opportunities to become decision-makers. We must instil empathy in them now. This will pave the way for a better future, one that is more livable and sustainable.


Author: Sonya Rehman

Publisher: Zuka Books

Price: Rs1,000

The reviewer is a journalist based in Karachi. She can be reached at Sara.amjhotmail.co.uk

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