for ISKCON News on July 28, 2012
A brand new children’s illustrated story book, written by Kosa Ely (Kosarupa Dasi) and illustrated by Anna Johansson (Annapurna Dasi) hopes to inspire a ‘gentle revolution’ of vegetarianism amongst readers with its sacred tale of kindness to animals.
Author Kosa became a vegetarian herself at the young age of fourteen, and finds that children more easily embrace vegetarianism and animal protection if given the option.
“Working in the health and yoga fields for many years, I was frustrated at how hard it was to help adults understand how important vegetarianism is for their health and spiritual advancement,” she says. “But children understand naturally—in fact, they often have to be tricked into eating meat.”
So Kosa decided to try and reach people early on in life with her message by writing a children’s book on kindness to animals.
Her new book, The Peaceable Forest, will be her second effort at delivering deep morals and values through an entertaining story.
When her own children were young, Kosa wished for more sacred and educational stories for them, and embarked on writing one herself. Her self-published 2001 book The Prince and the Polestar, which she also illustrated, retold the story of Prince Dhruva from the ancient Vedic text Srimad Bhagavatam. In it, Dhruva learns the value of spiritual fulfillment over acquiring material possessions.
The book was and continues to be hugely popular with children all over the world. During her travels Kosa has met children, from Ireland to New Zealand, who have grown up with The Prince and the Polestar and tell her how much it means to them.
A year after publishing this first book, Kosa decided upon the next story she would retell. This time, she wanted a vegetarian theme. So she chose the parable of Mrgari the Hunter, who is shown by the sage Narada how his actions affect other living beings. He then has a change of heart and begins to live in peace with the animals he once pursued.
“The story has great potency, having been originally told by Gaudiya Vaishnavism’s founder Sri Chaitanya to the saint Sanatan Goswami,” says Kosa, who has studied the Vaishnava tradition since she joined ISKCON in 1976 at the age of 16, and grew up on the stories of Christian saints prior to that. “Something awakens in both children and parents when they hear it—a higher understanding about compassion to animals and the existence of another spiritual dimension.”
As she does with Dhruva in The Prince and the Polestar, Kosa opens her new book with a character—this time a sage—telling the story to the animals in the Peaceable Forest.
“Children really respond to and identify with animals,” Kosa says. “Sometimes more than they do with the adult world around them.”
As well as using this framing mechanism, the story makes itself more appealing by revealing that the sage telling the animals the story is Mrigari himself.
“Love and kindness are what influence people to change, not anger and self-righteousness,” says Kosa. “The fact that he’s telling his own story, rather than someone else telling you what or what not to do, brings with it a softness and compassion that wouldn’t be there otherwise. There’s nothing to get defensive about. It’s a very gentle, loving way to help people make the transition to nonviolence.”
Making The Peaceable Forest even more approachable is the particularly conscious way that Kosa writes for children of all backgrounds, rather than just Hindu or ISKCON kids. Fitting into the multicultural section at school and public libraries rather than the religious section, it’s sure to have a broad audience.
Finally, the book’s illustrations, in lively watercolor and ink, are the icing on the cake.
“It was extremely important to me that the artist was someone who really felt strongly about the story, and who really loved animals,” Kosa says. “Annapurna, who dedicated herself to this project for a whole year, does both. She’s one of my favorite artists, and has done a phenomenal job of conveying the animals’ emotions, and making them look both realistic and approachable.”
Parents and children will be intrigued to learn of an authentic touch—all the animals that appear in the illustrations are native to India, where the story took place hundreds of years ago in the sacred forest of Prayag.
These include Sloth bears, Langur monkeys, Blackbuck antelope, tigers, wild boars, deer, rabbits, chipmunks, tortoises, foxes, elephants, buffalo, and panthers. There are also Indian birds such as Sarus cranes, peacocks, Ring-neck Parrots, Blue-winged Malabhar Parakeets, Crimson Sunbirds, and Tailorbirds. Even the trees and flowers in the pictures are native to India: there’s the Banyan tree, Magnolia tree, Date Palm tree and sacred Tulasi tree.
Charming and eye-opening, The Peaceable Forest has already drawn praise from Chicken Soup for the Soul author Jack Canfield and the Pulitzer Prize nominated author of Diet for a New America, John Robbins—who wrote Kosa back with a glowing review within one hour of receiving the book.
But no one belives more in The Peaceable Forest’s message of non-violence and kindness to animals than Kosa herself, who is hatching one of the most audacious marketing plans for a children’s picture book ever.
Kosa is inspired by her mentor Jack Canfield and his co-author Mark Victor Hansen, who set a goal to sell one million copies of their inspiration Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Despite being rejected by 144 publishers, they stuck to their goal. Finally, they were accepted by the 145th publisher—and today, books in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series have sold over 500 million copies around the world.
“After doing Jack Canfield’s seven-day Breakthrough to Success seminar last summer, I set a goal to sell ten million copies of The Peaceable Forest, although no one sets a goal like that for a children’s book—a few thousand is considered lucky,” Kosa says. “But there have been a few children’s books that have reached those numbers.”
To realize her goal, Kosa will be marketing her book, beautifully published by Mandala, to vegetarian restaurants, health food stores, museums, zoos, and of course book stores and libraries everywhere. She’ll also be personally appearing at green and vegetarian festivals to sign books and display Annapurna’s art.
Meanwhile, a new section of her website, Kosaely.com, called Animals Love Vegetarians, will cater to vegetarian kids, with handy resources, extra information about the animals in The Peaceable Forest, and a new line of children’s t-shirts. Kosa has also already launched a Youtube video channel of the same name wherein people share their favorite animal stories and their reasons for being vegetarian.
“I’m anticipating that this book will stir a giant gentle revolution for many, many children to become vegetarian or vegan, and to help stop the exploitation of animals,” says Kosa.
While the process of illustrating and publishing her books takes a long time, Kosa is building up the ammo in the meantime, currently working on no less than seven books. Her next offering, like her web campaign, will be called Animals Love Vegetarians, and will be followed by two more picture books based on stories from the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
As if she doesn’t already have enough to do, Kosa is also helping to market another new children’s book and several reprints published by Mandala, a company that seems intent on finally giving parents the flood of sacred and value-wealthy books they’ve been looking for.
All being released this fall are the new book Manu’s Ark: India’s Tale of the Great Flood by Emma V. Moore, and hardbound new editions of Kaliya: Serpent King by Joshua M. Greene, and Agha: The Eight Mile Monster by Karen Wilson-Timmons.
To purchase The Peaceable Forest, please visit
http://kosaely.com/store/. For readings and book signings, visit
To make a wholesale order for The Peaceable Forest or any of the three other children’s books mentioned in this article; or to help market The Peaceable Forest, please contact Kosa Ely at
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