RABBITYNESS by Jo Empson. Published by Child's Play, 2012.
Reviewed by Dawn McNiff
A bright splash of a picture book by author-illustrator, Jo Empson. A quirky book that grapples with bereavement and loss, whilst remaining fun and hopeful.
Now, I imagine you've guessed that the star of the show is Rabbit...Well, our Rabbit is a bit of a nutter - bouncy, wild and eccentric. He likes doing rabbity things as well as loads of un-rabbity stuff. And he is a bit of a leader too, so all his rabbit friends join in his mad antics.
First off, I reckon that a rabbit is a great choice of animal for a picture book. So many young children I know either have a rabbit, or really, really want one. Rabbits just WIN - and this big rabbity fest feels spot-on for infant-classers...
Copying seems a good theme for this age-group too. They're great little mimics themselves, and appear to be obsessed with either playing 'copying'; or arguing about who's copying who, and then 'telling'. It's a hot topic when you're 4.
And Rabbit is a guy well worth copying. Off he goes, boinging through the pages doing cool stuff, and spreading his rabbityness and joy. Splurgy paints in the pictures represent the colour and fun he brings into the woods.
Until one day he's just not there any more....
And he leaves behind a dark hole in everyone's lives, and on the page. This is shocking moment, but not so chilling that it would scare a more sensitive child under his bed for a week. The book deals with this loss and death with a light touch, but without trivialising it.
We see how the other rabbits learn to deal with their grief by doing all the happy, unrabbity things that Rabbit taught them to do - and in this way he is remembered, honoured, and not entirely lost to them.
I just wish I'd had this book 15 years ago. I will always remember a holiday to Yorkshire with my now-grown-up, 3 year old daughter. We did loads of fun things, but the highlight for her was the squashed, dead mouse we came across on a path near our holiday cottage. Every morning we had to take a detour to visit it. She'd hold my hand, and we'd stand and gaze at it solemnly. She'd ask what had happened to the mouse and why. Where had the mouse's life gone? Was it sad that it'd died, and why was it sad? Was the mouse's mummy sad? And its friends? All achingly sweet, poignant and funny from an adult's point of view - but she really was wrestling with some proper existential angst.
I'm not at all sure that I provided adequate replies to her questions. A book like Rabbityness would've been a very welcome prop.....
Return to REVIEWS HOMEPAGE