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John Luksetich's children's book sends an anti-fur message to kids
The 41-year-old Long Beach resident recently self-published "Whose Coat?" (Imagine Nation Press, $14.95), an anti-fur book without the gory images.
Instead of using in-your-face tactics and bloody photos, Luksetich takes a kinder, gentler approach for his audience of 4- to 8-year-olds.
"I want to get this (book) accepted in the mainstream and make a point, but if I show graphic images, they won't pick this up," says Luksetich, a first-time author and world history teacher at Buena Park Junior High School. "If I want to make a difference in the world, talking to adults is very difficult; we're very set in our ways, even myself. But working with children, it's much easier for them to question things and say, 'Where did your coat come from, mom?'"
Luksetich's "Whose Coat?" follows 6-year-old Aurora, who's shopping for a winter coat. A salesman, Mr. Toopay, shows her a variety of animal coats. Surprised that they would easily give up their coats, Aurora visits the shivering animals and asks if they need them back. When she hears their exclamations of "Yes!" Aurora helps them reclaim their missing coats.
Book reviewers and animal rights groups applaud Luksetich's child-friendly approach.
"Kids have a natural empathy for animals. The challenge is to present this information to them in a way that they can grasp the basic concepts without being overly gory," says Andrew Butler, an anti-fur campaign coordinator with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
"John did that well by making characters that kids can empathize with and relate to. Everyone could relate to losing their own skin," Butler says. "This book was successful in showing that, to these animals, their skin is valuable. They need their skin more than we need a coat made from it."
In addition to showing that point of view, Luksetich wanted to present animals as more than victims at the mercy of mankind.
"There's an empowerment theme of the underdogs animals who can't speak for themselves, but are given the chance to do so with the help of a little girl," Luksetich says.
Luksetich has been an underdog getting his book published.
He wrote the story in 1986 while substitute teaching in San Diego. But after receiving 42 rejections from publishers, Luksetich threw it in an old cabinet.
Twelve years later, during a second bout with chronic fatigue syndrome, Luksetich laid on the couch, on a month's sick leave from school, and needed to keep his mind off his health. He looked in the cabinet and found the "Whose Coat?" manuscript.
With no idea how to create a picture book, Luksetich placed a classified ad on the Internet. Illustrator Patti Kern took the assignment and finished her drawings in a few months.
He found a graphic artist from his family's local church, who reduced her usual fee. Several months and $4,000 later, Luksetich published his first 1,000 books. Luksetich "had an awakening" to animal rights in 1990, during his first attack of chronic fatigue syndrome. He found plant-based medicines, alternatives to conventional drugs, that helped him recover.
At that point, Luksetich began to look at the environment through a progressive prism.
"I was ignorant to the politics and social environment around the world," he says. "Growing up in Iowa, I was kind of sheltered and never looked at it before. I didn't have a reason to look much deeper until I was ill and had to find these natural alternatives help me get better. Then I realized what I had been missing out on all these years."
Now, Luksetich proselytizes the benefits of alternative health treatments and compassion to animals. On the publishing front, he has plans for the first animal rights children's book series with Aurora in such titles as "Animal Shelter" or "Where's My Home?" (tentatively set for a January 2004 release), looking at the loss of habitat; "Put to the Test," focusing on animal testing; "The Greatest Show on Earth," spotlighting the treatment of circus animals; and "Caged," discussing zoos.
Luksetich also hopes his books will adhere to California's educational content standards and be included in lesson plans on humane treatment.
He already has support at work. The book is in all seven of the Buena Park School District's libraries.
"I like the story. One of the coolest books we've seen in a long time," says Marilou Ryder, assistant superintendent of educational services at the Buena Park School District. "Children now are so into protecting animals and animal rights."
Luksetich adds, "Kids are the first ones that will start thinking about something if you let them know the reality of life and encourage them to question it a little bit. That's my intention with the children's books: Make them think a little bit."
Phillip Zonkel can be reached at (562) 499-1258 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
"Live in peace with the animals. Animals bring love to our hearts, and warmth to our souls."