By Ashlee Cartwright on December 1, 2016
I am one of those people who absolutely loves Christmas! I purchased tickets to Laurie Berkner’s Christmas concert in September, started Christmas shopping and scheduled our family Christmas picture in October, and now that November is here, I am happy to welcome anything Christmas. Christmas decorations out in stores? Okay! Corny Christmas movies on Lifetime and Hallmark Channels? Would love to watch one if I had a couple hours to spare. Christmas carols playing on the radio? Bring it on!
Given my love of Christmas, I was extremely excited when I found out about the new books, Santa’s First Vegan Christmas. Not only does anything Christmas get me all giddy but so does anything vegan. It’s a winning combination! When I ordered the book, I was immediately drawn to the artwork on the cover. It is so visually appealing and the color combinations are perfection. But, as they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover. So, I anxiously awaited the arrival of the book in the mail so I could read it from beginning to end.
Santa’s First Vegan Christmas, written by Robin Raven, illustrated by Kara Maria Schunk, and published by Vegan Publishers, is a story about a reindeer named Dana who lives in the Arctic. Without giving too much of the story away, when Dana meets Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, instead of helping Santa pull his sleigh, Dana inspires Santa to realize that all animals should be treated with respect. Santa’s realization turns Christmas Eve into a magical night for animals and children around the world. The book starts with the classic words, “‘Twas the night before Christmas.” (Just reading those words makes me want to grab a mug of hot cocoa.) From there, you are brought on a journey of enlightenment, compassion, and love.
This book full of memorable rhymes is great for both vegan and non-vegan children of all ages. It’s great for vegan children because, heck, it’s the first Christmas story with the word “vegan” in the title that I have ever come across. Children sometimes need to feel like they are part of a larger community, and the fact that this book exists is a testament to the growing population of plant-powered kids. This book allows vegan children to truly connect with the Christmas story and its characters. And, it allows parents to read a book without having to make substitutions or having to explain why the main character is doing something that isn’t in alignment with an ethical vegan lifestyle. The book is great for non-vegan children because the message of appreciating all beings and allowing them to be free is not harsh or in-your-face. It’s subtle and the author does a tremendous job of having Dana help Santa learn that just because things have been done a certain way in the past, it doesn’t mean they have been done the right way. What Santa intended to be a night of doing things as they have always been done (reindeer pulling a sleigh and handing out gifts to children) turns into a night with much more meaning.
One other aspect of the book that I love is that while the focus is making the world a better place for all animals, it also highlights the importance of making the world a better place for all children. In other words, compassion should be extended to all innocent beings living on this earth. If I said I didn’t shed a tear the first time I read this book, I would be lying. I have no doubt that this story will be a family favorite for years to come.
What was the inspiration behind Santa’s First Vegan Christmas?
I am very much a Christmas enthusiast. During the holiday season of 2011, I actually was watching a lot of holiday movies, and I was looking at a lot of Christmas art. I noticed that there was this casual violence within the Santa world. In fact, in a lot of the depictions of Santa Claus in art, he is depicted with a whip, and the paintings and drawings often show Santa Claus with the whip landing on a reindeer or about to hit a reindeer! Yet, it just seemed like an accepted part of the season. These otherwise “good guys” and “heroes” didn’t seem to think twice about abusing the non-human animals in the story, and that’s sadly how things are often in the “real world.”
So, to make a long story short, I was taken aback by this mistreatment and abuse of the animals in the story, as I always have compassion for animals in any story. It made me think of how often animals are mistreated on a daily basis in real life without anyone taking notice. It also brought to mind times in my own life where I’ve encountered injustice.
I wrote the character of Dana as a sweet, strong reindeer who wanted to open Santa’s eyes to how animals feel and so much more. Mostly, Dana the Reindeer is a totally fun character who stands up for herself and others without hesitation. She is the hero of the story. When the concept of this character came to me, I felt a strong need to tell her story. I’ve been hearing from parents that children are really taking her to heart, too, and that means a lot to me.
Who is the book dedicated to?
It’s dedicated to my mom Margaret and my sister Holly. I adore them. Christmases around our home were special and fun, and it was always my favorite time of year.
How long did it take to write the book?
I actually don’t remember exactly how long. I was so inspired when I wrote it that the first version did not take long, but I waited three years before I submitted it to a publisher.
The book is beautifully illustrated. How did you and Kara team up?
Yes, I’m truly thankful that the talented Kara Maria Schunk illustrated the book. She was assigned to the book by Vegan Publishers, the publishing company that released Santa’s First Vegan Christmas. What a blessing that was. We have become great friends and are also collaborating on several upcoming projects.
What do you want children, and adults, to take away after reading Santa’s First Vegan Christmas?
I hope they see Dana as an inspiring character. As she says, we can all be more kind, and I hope that people are inspired to start with themselves to help make the world a more peaceful place. That’s what I’m trying to do.
I am a huge fan of Christmas. You must also love Christmas to write a book based around it. Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?
Oh, I have many wonderful Christmas memories. My sister and I always had fun writing our letters to Santa. I remember the anticipation of going to sleep on Christmas Eve. It was so joyful to go into the living room on Christmas morning to see all that Santa Claus left. I remember how thrilled I was to watch my favorite Christmas movies every year like A Very Brady Christmas, A Mom for Christmas, and It’s a Wonderful Life.
I have great memories of my beloved dog, Marta, opening her own holiday presents, and we went to Disney World for Christmas when I was in seventh grade, so that was extremely special. My friend Robert always gives the best Christmas Eve parties in LA, so I fondly remember those times with dear friends. I think this year will be special, too. I’ll be spending it with my mom and sister! I’m so thankful that Santa’s First Vegan Christmas was published!
Do you have plans for another children’s vegan book?
Yes, I have a few projects in the works, and I should have news for you soon. Also, you haven’t heard the last from Dana the Reindeer.
Any advice for children who want to get involved in writing?
Yes, I actually wrote my first novel when I was seven, and writing was a passion of mine at a very early age. I’d encourage children to let their imagination run free and write any stories that come to their mind. I’d advise them to write each week whenever they feel inspired. The best way to get better at writing is to do it often.
What is your favorite book at the moment?
Oh, it would be impossible to pick just one. I’m always reading a couple of books at a time. I adore anything by Alice Hoffman and Quinn Cummings. I also recently discovered author Michelle Richmond, and I’m loving her work.
What is your vegan story?
I had a huge affinity for animals from my earliest memories, and I went vegetarian as a child. I became a vegan more recently, and now there is no turning back. It’s actually so much easier than it seems like it would be before you do it. I’ve tried so many different foods and dishes since becoming vegan, and there are dozens of incredible vegan cookbooks. There are even vegan options at many fast food restaurants these days. It’s easier than ever.
My activism is intersectional and positive. It comes from a place of love and joy. Being a vegan makes me happy and I don’t judge others. I admire the way that the Esther the Wonder Pig page is run, and how that sweet pig’s dads, Derek Walter and Steve Jenkins, speak up for animals is a way that shows compassion for human and non-human animals.
Lastly, where can you buy Santa’s First Vegan Christmas?
You can buy Santa’s First Vegan Christmas on Amazon, the Vegan Publishers website, and the official PETA catalog. I’ve also noticed that it’s available at other online bookstores. I’ve even noticed that brand new copies are internationally available on eBay. If your local independent bookstore or Barnes and Noble doesn’t carry the book in the store, it can likely be special ordered, so don’t be afraid to ask.
You can connect with Robin Raven via her social media sites: