“Respect the sheep”

Illustrated by Shaun Tan

“‘Respect the sheep,’ the teacher told us… And respect it we did… But it was not enough to block the rank breeze that rolled in from the port: the gigantic livestock ship loading against an ill-timed easterly.”

“Respect the sheep”, a short story from Shaun Tan’s Tales from the Inner City, takes place in a classroom in which the instructor begs the students to give due respect to the animals—in this case, the sheep—on which we rely on for our everyday comforts and luxuries such as warmth (from its wool), food and drink (from its meat and milk), and wealth (from the use and selling of its bones, skin, and other resources).

Consisting only of two brief paragraphs, this tale exposes the way that speciesism, especially the human arrogance and control of anthropocentrism, leaves little room for empathy with regard to our relationships with the natural world. It suggests, additionally, that these attitudes and practices overcompensate to lessen the traces of guilt and shame we feel in the way we interact with our fellows—that is, the various non-human species with whom we share the Earth. This story contributes to the theme, threaded throughout the collection, that human selfishness may eventually prove to be our self-destruction.

This story can be productively paired with I am fox! I go wherever I go! ” and “You are two years old.”

©2024 ClimateLit (Julia Coltman)

Other reviews from Tales from the Inner City can be found here.

This tale is featured in the Climate Literacy in Education’s critical essay: “Humanity’s Reliance on the More-Than-Human in Shaun Tan’s Tales from the Inner City

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2021

Pages: 224

ISBN: 978-1338298406

Audience: Questers (8-13), Rebels (14-older)

Format: Short Stories

Topics: Anthropocentrism, Ecocentrism, Empathy, Industrial Agriculture, Livestock, Speciesism