Reviews & Endorsements – On Parade

Canadian Review of Materials, Volume XVII Number 29, April 1, 2011

Excerpt: Chaining elephants in circuses and traveling shows is common. They’re usually chained by one front leg and one rear leg in an area about the size of one or two parking lot spaces. In a 2009 paper in the scientific journal Animal Welfare, the authors said the elephants in the circuses they reviewed were chained 12-23 hours a day; four circuses kept elephants chained in areas measuring just 7 to 12 sq. meters. That’s smaller than a single car parking space. The elephants could only move 1 – 2 meters, the length of their chain.

Animal rights campaigner Rob Laidlaw pulls no punches in this disturbing and timely information text for upper elementary and high school students. Each section describes a certain aspect of entertainment that involves the abuse and confinement of animals, from circuses and movies to “Swim with Dolphins” and blood sports such as cock fighting. After an introduction that lays out the basic needs of all animals – space, freedom of choice, things to do and family – Laidlaw exposes how different entertainment industries deny animals these rights and cites many specific examples from around the world. Laidlaw demonstrates a solid grasp of animal behaviour and ethics and writes in a direct, first-person style that is factual and detailed, but still uses child-friendly vocabulary and sentence structure. He draws on his own observations from decades working as an activist, and includes photographs highlighting many grim practices around the world. The final chapters are a look at cruelty-free alternatives, such as Cirque du Soleil and animal rescue societies, and the book concludes with a glossary, FAQ section and index.

Laidlaw’s choice to write this book in the first person occasionally becomes distracting: certain parts sound more like a personal screed than a children’s information text. Moreover, Laidlaw includes many references to studies, news events and organizations, but he does not support his research with a bibliography or footnotes of any kind. The layout is quite bland with every page very text-heavy; but the depth of Laidlaw’s information, and the potential for this book to raise awareness and inspire action in its readers more than makes up for its shortcomings. On Parade is a passionate and thorough exposé of the entertainment industry and is definitely a valuable addition to school and public libraries.


Review by Elizabeth Walker, teacher-librarian in Vancouver, BC.

School Library Journal

Reviewed by Anne Chapman Callaghan, Racine Public Library, WI.

Laidlaw’s goal in this heart-wrenching title is to inspire his audience to try to make the world a better place for animals. His description of the hard life of Jumbo, an unfortunate elephant, is cringe-worthy. Captured in Africa as a baby after his mother was killed, Jumbo was forced into performing for audiences in Europe and North America, before being killed in a train accident in Canada. Photographs of chained, caged, and tethered animals are disheartening. A leashed bear is shown performing on a bicycle. Dogfights, bullfighting, horse racing, etc., are detailed, and reprehensible breeding practices are mentioned. It would be a rare individual who would not come away from this book horrified by the suffering of these creatures. The title ends with suggested ways to help entertainment animals and a list of helpful organizations to contact. The cover, showing a circus elephant performing a stunt, seems adorable at first. After reading the book, it seems cruel. This is a difficult, important topic, and Laidlaw does a worthy job of bringing the suffering of these animals to light. Reviewed: March 2011

VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates)

Review by Nancy K. Wallace

Thousands of Greyhounds bred for racing are killed annually. “More than 1,200 horses died at U.S. tracks in 2008 alone.” “250,000 bulls are killed each year in the bullfighting industry.” These horrifying statistics paint an appalling picture of the world’s cruelty to animals.

Performing elephants are chained by their legs in areas no bigger than a parking space. They are trained using bull hooks and electric prods; chimps are punched and beaten; bears’ feet are burned and their noses broken. Television nature shows stage “chase and kill” scenes, placing animals in close proximity to compel them to fight. Reality television forces contestants to eat live rats and snakes. Aquariums and marine parks house large aquatic species in small restricted tanks. Even the English falconer who supplied owls for the Harry Potter movies pled guilty to seventeen charges of animal cruelty.

As director of the wildlife protection agency, Zoocheck Canada, the author has firsthand knowledge of the deplorable living conditions and abuse animals are subjected to in the name of entertainment. All animals have basic needs: ample space to live, freedom of choice, access to family and social groups, and activities that keep them mentally alert and physically fit. Most animals used by the entertainment industry are denied all of these simple requirements. They develop abnormal behaviors as a result of inactivity and boredom. They die early deaths without proper food and exercise. There is hope—the book ends with a list of “Ten Ways to Help Animals in Entertainment.” Readers are encouraged to patronize “animal-free” circuses and movies with computer-generated animals. They can write letters and blog in support of better treatment for animals, or join an animal protection group.

This book should be required reading. It belongs in every school and public library. Reviewed: February 2011.


Review by Kay Weisman

Laidlaw, a wildlife-protection biologist, recounts the numerous ways animals have been abused in the entertainment industry. After explaining what all animals need (adequate space, freedom of choice, access to family, and things to do), he catalogs specific instances of abuse that have occurred at circuses, on movie and television sets, at exhibitions, in zoos, and at rodeos and other sporting events. Two final chapters offer hope for change—suggestions for alternatives (using computer-generated animals in television and films and providing sanctuaries for animals unable to return to the wild) and a list of ways to help animals used for entertainment. Laidlaw, who also wrote Wild Animals in Captivity (2008), is passionate about changing the views of his readers, even if the specifics he cites are disturbing. However, his clearly argued text; crisp, captioned color photos; and appended list of organizations make this an important source for animal advocates. Give this to activist fans of Peg Kehret’s Saving Lilly (2001) or Kenneth Oppel’s Half Brother (2010). Reviewed : 01/02/2011.

Born Free USA Blog

Review by Barry Kent MacKay, Senior Program Officer, Born Free USA

Who knew? I certainly never dreamed that my longtime friend, Rob Laidlaw — spelunker, chartered biologist, world traveller and founder and fellow director of Zoocheck-Canada — had this secret talent: He’s a terrific writer for kids. It’s a talent I learned about just two years ago with the publication of his first book, “Wild Animals in Captivity,” a finalist for the Ontario Library Association’s Silver Birch Award for nonfiction, placed on the School Library Journal’s best books of 2008 list and on the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association Top 40 list for 2008.

He’s done it again, this time with “On Parade: The Hidden World of Animals in Entertainment.” Rob’s technical writing and advocacy on behalf of animals have long been well known to me, and he and I often have assisted each other with various pedantic texts, but his ability to write for kids is something else and a talent I would not have predicted he possessed. I mean, he’s not a parent, he’s not a teacher or involved with any young people’s groups or associations, and yet he has this wonderful ability to connect with youthful readers. I’ve written professionally, always about animals and nature, for nearly 40 years and although I’ve occasionally tried to write for children I know that I can’t. It is not easy; it’s a very special and important talent.

Rob does not talk down to young readers and does not preach. He tells them specific things that have happened to animals used to entertain, or about things he has personally encountered, and lets his readers judge whether this is how animals should be treated. He also explains the more abusive things done to animals in order to make them perform for the movies, circuses, TV shows, rodeos, sporting contests and other forms of “entertainment.” He discusses all kinds of animals, even invertebrates and reptiles, without ever overstating the issue, or resorting to sensationalist rhetoric or sickeningly graphic photographs.

He also provides readers, including adults, with information that can help them determine for themselves if animals are abused in the interest of entertainment.

More important, I think, is that this book empowers young people by giving them various ideas on what they can do to help animals. The assumption that many would want to is based not only on what I’ve heard kids tell me, but by my memory of the frustrations of my own childhood, when I saw things I didn’t approve of, but never knew what I could do about them. Page 47 succinctly lists “ten ways to help animals in entertainment,” all quite available to teens and preteens.

Rob also provides information on what other individuals, and organizations, have done for animals and how to contact such groups.

I think one of the best features of the book is a two-page section entitled “arguments and answers.” Many defenders of animal abuse (although they never describe themselves in such fashion) have a tiresomely predictable litany of rationales they love to parade out to justify the use of animals in entertainment. Rob presents these arguments and succinct replies with information that kids easily can grasp and remember.

That said, I want to emphasize that “On Parade” is not a simple polemic. It is a concise exploration of the largely hidden world behind the very public view we get of animals used by various parts of the entertainment industry. Most contemporary kids have seen the Harry Potter movies, for example, but how many know that in April 2009, the falconer who provided the owls to the filmmakers pled guilty to 17 charges of cruelty to animals, his birds living in conditions one veterinarian characterized as “filthy” and “squalid”?

The book is filled with such information from around the globe, including places likely to be encountered during holidays, or featured on TV documentaries and uncritical news blurbs. “Maybe,” says Rob in the text, “it’s sometimes possible to train animals humanely, and there are probably some trainers who are thoughtful and responsible, but a growing mountain of evidence suggests that these cases are the exception, especially when wild animals are involved.”

That “growing mountain of evidence” is overwhelming even to those of us who daily toil on behalf of animals. There is nothing overwhelming about this book. It is clear, precise and provides what I think is just the right amount of information to help kids to have the knowledge and the empowerment necessary to best understand and respond to the issue. The book is fully illustrated with color photos, has a glossary of terms, costs less than $20 and is published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside and distributed by Ingram in the United States. It strikes me as being appropriate reading for children ages 8 and older. Reviewed: November 2010


Adults often claim that it is their children who insist on seeing animals in the circus or other entertainment situations. But most children have no idea what life is like for the animals behind the bars. Children naturally love animals and would not insist on participating in activities that they knew were causing animals to suffer. Now children can know. On Parade is the best children’s book I have read on the subject because it treats children themselves with so much respect. Neither too much information nor too little. Just enough to empower them to decide right and wrong for themselves. –Lesli Bisgould, Animal Rights Law Professor & author

This is an excellent book for children, stripping back as it does the glamorous facade of entertainment using animals; it reveals the poverty and desperate sadness of their existence in comparison with the lives they were meant to live. The issues are presented clearly and succinctly, and interspersed with heart-rending case studies that shame the human race. This is a must for all young people, who are so often the target audience of those who use animals instead of talent to entertain. –Jan Creamer, President, Animal Defenders International

After working for many years with Nancy Burnet, of United Activists for Animal Rights, exposing cruelty to animals in entertainment, I can assure you that such cruelty is rampant. Rob Laidlaw’s book, “On Parade,” tells the tragic story of animal suffering for man’s diversion in vivid, heartbreaking detail. Read it, and help us save these pitiful creatures from the clutches of those who would do them harm. –Bob Barker, Television personality and activist

Rob Laidlaw has written an important story because it concerns the costs to performing animals – often deliberately hidden – of amusing humans. –Anne Russon, PhD. Primatologist, author of Orangutans: Wizards of the Rainforest

Wonderful, solid, educational and absorbing. This book gives every young reader a lesson in our evolving idea of who animals are and our obligations to respect them. –Ingrid Newkirk, President, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Rob Laidlaw exposes the cruel, profit-driven underbelly of the animal entertainment industry. This is must-reading for anyone considering a trip to the circus, the zoo or the aquarium. –Jonathon Balcombe, author of Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals

To change the world of tomorrow we need to educate the kids of today – a simple, no nonsense look at the use of animals in many forms of “entertainment.” Looking beyond the usual topics of zoos and circuses, Rob also exposes the cruelties in greyhound and horse racing, animal use in films, and photo sessions. When future generations end the captivity and brutality of animals for entertainment, Rob’s books will be seen as an essential part of that process. –Craig Redmond, Campaigns Director, Captive Animals’ Protection Society

On Parade educates children about the realities of life for millions of animals throughout the world who are confined, used and abused for our viewing pleasures. [This book] will help young growing minds make informed decisions about their own willingness to participate – even as an observer – in the animals’ suffering. Laidlaw gives his readers an experience that will help them grow into the kind of person who will want to, will be able to, and will help change the world. –Gloria Grow, founder of the Fauna Foundation chimpanzee sanctuary

Animals are used in a wide variety of ways solely for human entertainment and many of these individuals are severely abused in the process. Rob Laidlaw’s book is essential reading for those interested in animal protection and humane education and for those who want to learn more about these subjects. Children are the ambassadors for a more peaceful and compassionate future and this book provides essential information so that they and others will come to respect other animals and do what’s needed to grant them the protection they want and deserve. –Marc Bekoff, PhD., author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, Animals Matter, Animals at Play, and The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint

Rob Laidlaw’s important new book On Parade paints a detailed picture of the many unseen ways in which animals suffer when they are used in entertainment and advertising. Laidlaw does the hard work of explaining – in detailed, simple, calm terms – why an animal that looks OK on display (or in a photo, or on TV) is inherently living an unnatural and often miserable quality of life. The greatest hope for humane treatment of animals in the future is that the current generation of children will be raised with an entirely different set of expectations about what is acceptable. –Camilla Calamandrei, documentary filmmaker The Tiger Next Door

This is a wonderful book that uses real life stories to expose the dark side of what many people still think of as family-oriented leisure and entertainment activities. Although aimed at children, this book is an educational must-read for parents who take their children to circuses, animals exhibits and other events where animals are on parade. –Silia Smith, Regional Director, Canada, World Society for the Protection of Animals

On Parade is a compelling children’s book that challenges children to put themselves in the place of animals in the entertainment industry and to ask themselves, “Would I like to live like this?” Clearly the answer is no. Laidlaw then gently guides children to informational tools they need to make change in their world for abused entertainment animals. –Else Poulsen, Zoological Consultant and author of Smiling Bears, A Zookeeper Explores the Behaviour and Emotional Lives of Bears

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