Journalist Sonya Rehman takes up the issue of animal abuse in her first children’s book Wolfie, as she unravels tones of empathy and hope
“No animal will be left behind.” So reads the ending of Wolfie, a tale of a scared little dog who escapes a cruel farm in Lahore and follows his journey of rescuing his friends. A book for kids aged 9 and above, Wolfie is filled with anecdotes of triumph, friendships, empathy, and humanity, as it glimmers a ray of hope for the little ones.
An arts and culture journalist in Pakistan, this is Sonya Rehman’s first children’s book, after her non-fiction book Embroidering Dreams – 50 Years of Empowering Women and Preserving the Craft of Needlework, was published in 2021. In a conversation with wknd., she talks about the ideas that informed the book.
There is always a lesson underneath the narrative in children’s books. What are the lessons in Wolfie?
Wolfie aims to make children aware of how animals feel when they’re mistreated, and how they’re living, breathing beings who need to be treated with kindness. At the same time, it highlights how everyone has a special gift to offer to the world, be it through their bravery, their compassion and so on.
“For every bad person, there’s a good person in this world too.” How would you want kids to perceive this in today’s times?
A majority of children experience cruelty throughout their lives: abuse (emotional, physical), bullying in school, emotional abandonment at the hands of a parent, and so on. That particular sentence was meant to give children a sense of hope in a world that can be dark, isolating and confusing.
Wolfie is based on animal cruelty and the fight against it. What personal experiences led you to take up this issue in your book?
Being exposed to pets from a young age (thanks to my mother) helped me become empathetic towards animals early on. As I grew up, I began noticing how people treated strays — unimaginable cruelty carried out without even an iota of remorse. Stoning, beating, throwing acid on strays — especially dogs — has been common. I currently have five rescue dogs, one of which is named Wolfie — we found him on the side of the road covered in blood after a car had run over him. Since we began taking care of Wolfie, I realised I had to do something more than just writing articles on animal rights. I wanted to make an impact on the new generation, to plant the seed of empathy in them. I thought fiction was the right way to go.
“Besides, life isn’t meant to be easy…it’s what you make of it when things are difficult and lonely…it’s always up to you.” Your book had many such hopeful-yet-complex quotes. How can kids relate to this?
I was driven to add sentences like that in Wolfie because the lockdown has had a traumatising effect on children — being homebound without having a normal school and home life, the past two years have been nothing short of painfully isolating for them. Hence I want children to feel things will and can get better even when the world spins crazily. I want them to know that they’re not helpless.
Your book takes a very hopeful tone, portraying characters battling adversities and coming out as winners. Was there any book in your childhood that held such elements for you?
I’m an Enid Blyton baby — her books had a great impact on my childhood. Especially The Magic Faraway Tree series. Blyton’s works helped me dream, believe in magic, feel excited about being a child and helped me feel less alone in the world. I wanted to do the same while writing Wolfie — animal cruelty is a heavy topic to write about for young readers, so I wanted to package it sensitively.
There are beautiful descriptions of the city of Lahore in your book. How important is it to inculcate love for culture among the younger generation?
Very important. It was my editor/publisher’s recommendation to bring Lahore into my story and to add some description about the city in Wolfie. I’m so glad I did because I feel children will be better able to relate to the book and the characters since it feels ‘local,’ it feels known… like home.
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