February 22, 2018
(++++) BUNNIES FOR ALL AGES
So Many Bunnies: A Bedtime ABC and Counting Book. By Rick Walton. Illustrations by Paige Miglio. HarperFestival. $6.99.
Rabbit & Possum. By Dana Wulfekotte. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.
Bunny vs. Monkey, Book Three. By Jamie Smart. David Fickling Books. $7.99.
Syd Hoff’s Danny and the Dinosaur: Eggs, Eggs, Eggs! By Bruce Hale. Illustrated by John Nez in the style of Syd Hoff. HarperFestival. $6.99.
In children’s books, the uses of rabbits are many, and their usefulness in stories considerable – although it is different for kids of different ages. An exceptionally clever use is in Rick Walton’s So Many Bunnies, originally published in 1998 and now available in a sturdy board-book edition in which the illustrations by Paige Miglio are as attractive as ever. As the book’s subtitle indicates, this is both an ABC book and a counting book, and that is where its cleverness lies. Instead of just “an old woman” who lived in a shoe, here it is “Old Mother Rabbit” who does just that – and instead of having so many children that she didn’t know what to do, Old Mother Rabbit knows just what to do when it is bedtime for each bunny. After a supper of “carrots, some broth, and some bread,” she puts her bunnies to bed one by one, in all sorts of delightful-to-imagine-and-see places that rhyme perfectly with each little one’s name. Abel “slept on the table,” Blair “slept in a chair,” Carol “slept in a barrel,” and so on. Link “slept in the sink,” Pat “slept in a hat,” Quinn “slept in a bin,” Vern “slept by a fern,” and yes, there is even an X bunny: Xen “slept with his pen,” and is shown falling asleep right in the middle of writing down all the letters of the alphabet in purple. The attractive setting, the counting all the way to 26 when most books for the youngest children go no higher than 10, and the relationship between numbers and the letters of the alphabet, add up to a bunny book that kids will enjoy hearing and looking at time and time again.
Dana Wulfekotte’s Rabbit & Possum uses the bunny of the title differently: simply as a friend to the easily startled Possum. Rabbit looks forward to playing with Possum, but by the time she cleans up her house and comes to get him, he is fast asleep and she cannot wake him up. But something wakes him up: a rustling in the bushes that scares Possum so much that he dashes away, “down the hill and up a very tall tree.” Unfortunately, Possum now finds he cannot climb down from his high perch – and Rabbit cannot climb up, although she does try. Wulfekotte’s funniest illustrations show Rabbit’s ideas for getting Possum down, such as getting a beaver to gnaw through the branch on which Possum is perched or having three birds lift Possum off the branch and fly him to the ground. Then comes a more-practical idea: Rabbit builds a ladder. But unfortunately the sticks she finds to build it do not make a ladder tall enough to reach to where Possum is perched. What to do? Well, remember that mysterious noise that woke Possum in the first place? Wulfekotte’s illustrations have shown hints of what made the sound throughout the book – and now Rabbit looks for and finds the actual maker of the sound, who turns out to be Moose. Moose follows Rabbit to the tree, where Possum is convinced he is a monster and “he’ll eat us both,” but in fact Moose simply stands under the tree and Possum uses him to get down. How exactly does that happen? Wulfekotte does not say and does not show – figuring it out is up to young readers, who will have fun doing just that. And when Possum thanks Moose “for not eating us,” Moose accurately if rather crabbily responds, “I’m a vegetarian. Geez.” And the book ends with one more idea from Rabbit: to have Moose as well as Possum come over for a snack.
The ideas flow freely, albeit in very silly fashion, in Jamie Smart’s Bunny vs. Monkey graphic novels, which simply use a rabbit as the good guy in the very short stories – opposed to bad-guy Monkey and his henchman, Skunky the inventor. Actually, Skunky has most of the ideas here, and they are what make these stories fun – although Bunny vs. Monkey, Book Three shows a friendlier side of the title characters that makes the action less intense and earns the book a (+++) rating. Really, there is almost as much cooperation in these stories as there is competition. For instance, in one, Monkey strolls along singing to himself about being “Emperor of the Woods! Meanie of the Forests! Tyrant of Nature!” But he is soon brought up short by a group of warthogs, who inform him that they “are the meanest, roughest, toughest animals in the woods.” And when Monkey tries to prove his toughness by attacking Bunny, he only manages to run into a door and hurt himself, after which he is comforted by Bunny. Similarly, Skunky at one point decides to be good rather than bad, although he reverts to type at the end of that story because evil is “a lot more fun.” However, he also helps Bunny: when human rangers drive into the woods after an explosion identified as “The Kakapo Poo Kaboom,” Skunky – at Bunny’s request – solves the problem of exploding bird poo by creating “a fully plumbed toilet for birds.” The silliness of Bunny vs. Monkey remains fully in evidence here, even though the underlying good-vs.-evil theme is somewhat soft-pedaled.
And when a book’s theme is Easter, there are sure to be bunnies present – most of the time. But not, as it happens, in Syd Hoff’s Danny and the Dinosaur: Eggs, Eggs, Eggs! This is the latest update/re-creation of Hoff’s more-than-half-century-old notion of a long-necked dinosaur that lives in a museum and has mild adventures with a modern-day child. In fact, this particular (+++) book is more about the “extras” within the binding than it is about the thin storyline, which has Danny helping his young cousin, Jack, find Easter eggs by perching on the dinosaur’s head so he can do some aerial egg-spotting. The “extras” have more to them than the tale does. There is a poster that folds out to 15” by 22” and shows Danny, lots of egg-hunting kids, and the dinosaur, all beneath a banner headline, “Have an Eggstraordinary Easter!” There are dozens of stickers showing eggs, Danny, other kids, the dinosaur, and the egg hunt. And there are no fewer than 14 perforated tear-out cards featuring scenes from the book and saying, “Have a very DINO Easter!” A dinosaur is no substitute for the Easter bunny, of course, but in this case, the dinosaur makes a pleasant (if scarcely compelling) stand-in for the traditional rabbit – and after all, even though the book does not mention it, some dinosaurs did lay eggs, while no rabbits ever did.