When it comes to books for my kids, I am definitely a creature of habit. I strongly lean toward books that I either read as a child or authors that I am familiar with. With that said, I am a bit snobbish when presented with the unfamiliar. Yes, I have sadly reached a point in my life where I can be snobbish about children’s books. I have no words for this.
Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson is one of those unfamiliar works that I originally wanted to turn my nose up to. My wife recommended it as a great book for our five-year old son, so I took a chance on it since she generally has great taste. She did marry me, after all. Ultimately, I am glad that I did because I would have missed out on a fun little story.
The story, quite unsurprisingly, focuses on the widely populated community of Rabbit Hill, which happens to be immediately adjacent to a farmhouse property that has historically had less-than-stellar tenants. However, rumors begin to swirl that “new folks” are coming to the farm, and speculation and excitement buzzes through the community as the animals begin to hope for a flourishing farm again.
While the story centers on a family of rabbits (Father, Mother, and their grandson, Little Georgie – several other grandchildren were not as careful around dogs and automobiles), the community is quite extended and can really push your skills if you like to give characters a unique voice. Just off the top of my head I can list a hedgehog, field mouse, skunk, buck, doe, additional rabbits, wolf, pheasant, raccoon, possum, chipmunks, and squirrels.
Here are a few things that I feel point to the true, good, and beautiful from the book:
- Humor – The book does work in some great wit. The Father (rabbit) was a personal favorite of mind as he loves to wax eloquently and give long speeches. He reminds me greatly of the Cob from Trumpet of the Swan in that regard. His ability to take any conversation and turn it back to his love for Kentucky bluegrass is impressive. His foil and bother, Uncle Analdas, has a more backwoods approach to life that comes across a bit darker and jaded. For example, he spends a great deal of energy trying to convince everyone that the New Folks are planning to build gallows and torture the animals only to find out that they are building them a nice surprise.
- Character – Several of the characters show bravery in the midst of difficult situations. Little Georgie finds himself in a jam against a worthy dog opponent but perseveres early in the book. Willie Fieldmouse not only plays a big role in the story, but he is also such a great helper to his blind friend Mole, being “his eyes” along the way.
- New Folks – Not to give away too much, but the New Folks ultimately do not disappoint. They model compassion, sacrifice, and generosity to the Rabbit Hill community on multiple occasions. Their benevolence and resistance to running off the animals is dismissed by the perplexed farm hands. Their explanation? “Seems a shame, nice folks too, pleasant-spoken and all – but queer. Nuts, some might say. Comes of readin’ books too much, I guess. Grandpa had the right of it. ‘Readin’ rots the mind,’ he used to say.”
- New Creation – There is an element of New Creation in the story that is hard to describe without giving away too much. The animals have this great hope for a good farm, and what they are given is much greater than that. It reminds me in a way of the parable of the prodigal son. The son just wants to be a servant, but the father meets him with royalty and revelry.
There are a few things to consider. The book, as a Newberry Award winner, carries a much stronger vocabulary than your run-of-the-mill animal/farm book. It is also quite dialog heavy. If I had known this then I may have waited until my son was six or so to take this one on. However, he was still able to hang and ultimately enjoyed the story.
While this will not take top place of my favorite rabbit-based fiction (you’ve always had my heart, Bunnicula), I give this a solid endorsement and think it is worth checking it out.
Incredibly narrow niche question – What is your favorite rabbit-based kid’s book?