Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Bunny Redux!

Our books today take a second buck-toothed bite at the subject of bunny-centric kids books. In response to a deluge of emails (well, eight - but still....) from the silent majority, I've belatedly realized that what bunny books lack in zoological verisimilitude, they make up for in the near-psychotic enthusiasm they inspire in their fans, and I've been informed by a number of those fans (well, eight ...) that although I might have covered the three biggest, most popular, most influential bunny books here on Stevereads recently, I didn't do the subject full justice. So we're back for a quick P.S. before hopping on to other subjects.

I was sent many suggestions! Of the many bunny-books I cruelly neglected, however, three titles seemed to crop up on most of the lists I was sent, and that helps to narrow the field.

The earliest of these three titles is 1979's Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe (with oddly appealing scratchy-line illustrations by Alan Daniel), the psychologically fraught story of what happens when the unsuspecting Monroe family brings home a bunny to keep as a pet. This ill-omened homecoming takes place on a dark and stormy night, and naturally the Monroe's two other pets - large, good-natured dog Harold and nervous, slightly spastic cat Chester - are curious. Harold, in his doglike way, placidly accepts the newcomer (at least, we're told this is doglike - having had a platoon of anal-retentive beagles in my life ... and now having a hyper-excitable pointer and a basset hound who is legally, medically certifiable, I wouldn't know first-hand), but Chester becomes convinced the bunny is in fact a vampire who intends to do in first
the Monroes - and then the world.

As all fans of Bunnicula will know - and as anybody who's ever met a cat will guess - it turns out the bunny is fairly harmless and that the real focus of the drama is how insane Chester is.

The bunny is also innocent in Mo Willems' great 1974 classic Knuffle Bunny, and how could it not be so, since the bunny in question is a stuffed animal? And not a Velveteen Rabbit-style stuffed animal that thinks and feels, but a just-ordinary stuffed animal (like my Barnesy the Noble Bear, for instance) that gets carted around from place to place.

The person doing the carting in Willems' funny little 'cautionary tale' is young Trixie, who takes her beloved Knuffle Bunny along when she accompanies her father to the laundromat. Trixie and her young parents live in New York City, and the lazy genius of Willems' story is to make the backgrounds of her pages actual photos, with the cartoon characters drawn onto them (this has also facilitated the Knuffle Bunny 'tours' that have sprung up in the city, since it's possible, 'Seinfeld'-style, to identify landmarks)(this is much the same reason why Japanese tourists who love Make Way for Ducklings always take pictures of real-life enormous Irish beat cops in Boston).

As Trixie and her dad are leaving the laundromat, Trixie has a horrifying realization: they've left her beloved Knuffle Bunny behind - in a washing machine. Hilarity ensues, and a heartwarming little happy ending is served up. The book is delightful and eminently re-readable, despite having only 30 words.

The third most popularly-suggested bunny-centric title will not, alas, be discussed here on Stevereads. It's something called Guess How Much I Love You, and it stars not only bunnies but jack-rabbits, and it's just too unbearably, mindlessly saccharine for inclusion here (ditto Pat the Bunny, for you handful of over-zealous advocates out there). No, these two late-breaking additions will have to do for now - but who knows what species we'll cover next, when we eventually return to the always-delightful world of kids books? Dogs would be too predictable coming from me, but there's always birds - and dinosaurs - and believe it or not, another round of BEARS wouldn't even come close to exhausting the treasures that are out there. We shall see!

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