The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes

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The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes
by DuBose Heyward

1939

Illustrated by Marjorie Flack

Along with the Easter egg hunt and the dyeing of the eggs, an annual reading of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes is a special way to mark the holiday. Children take comfort in traditions.

The story concerns a little brown country bunny who has a husband (never mentioned again) and 21 baby bunnies. She teaches her children self-sufficiency: two-by-two, they make the beds and wash the clothes and create pictures to adorn their home. When it comes time for the Grandfather Bunny at the Palace of Easter Eggs to select a new Easter Bunny, he recognizes the country bunny’s kindness, swiftness, and wisdom, all evident in her role as mother, and she is picked over the big white bunnies from fine houses or the long-legged jack rabbits.DSC01453

DuBose Heyward wrote this book, his only foray into children’s literature, for his 9 year old daughter, Jenifer. He died the following year. He is better-known (though largely unsung) for Porgy and Bess. In 1925, he wrote the novel Porgy, about a crippled African-American beggar (based on a real character who got around in a goat cart) in Charleston’s Catfish Row. Subsequently adapted as a highly successful play, Porgy became the first major Broadway production with an all black cast, this at a time when white actors in black-face were the norm. Several years later, George Gershwin wrote the music for what was to be the first great American folk opera, in collaboration with his brother, Ira, and DuBose Heyward. Heyward was largely responsible for the libretto and lyrics, including the song Summertime.

Heyward embodied an unlikely combination of contradictions. He was descended from a once-prosperous distinguished Southern family, yet he was a social progressive. He was a high school drop-out, yet he was an important figure in the revival of Southern literature in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His white roots were firmly in the segregated south, yet his novels gave voice to a waterfront African-American culture. With this background, it is worth rereading The Country Bunny to see how he quietly makes the case against discrimination.DSC01454

Marjorie Flack was a writer/illustrator who was responsible for The Story About Ping and the Angus books. For The Country Bunny, she drew hundreds of wholesome-looking rabbits, and managed to make even sweeping the floor and mending the clothes look like fun.

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Max’s Chocolate Chicken

Max’s Chocolate Chicken by Rosemary Wells

1989

Illustrated by Rosemary Wells

The book begins with an Easter bunny, in yellow paisley tails and purple vest, backed by a star studded sky, gliding low and gently dropping Easter eggs from his basket onto a grassy meadow.  He places a chocolate chicken, wrapped round with a pink ribbon, in an empty birdbath.  Max stares at the chicken with a look of weak-kneed rapture and proclaims his love.  Enter Ruby, his older sister, who interrupts his lovestruck revery to lay down the rules.  The Easter egg hunt is to be a competition.  Winner takes the chicken.  She admires each colorful egg she finds.  Max delights in floating his basket in a mud puddle, collecting acorns, following a trail of ants.  While Ruby, Midas-style, counts her eggs, Max slips away.  When he emerges from his hiding place, mouth covered with telltale chocolate, Ruby remonstrates.  “’Max……how could you do this to me?’”  Behind her back, we see the Easter Bunny’s hand slipping a chocolate duck onto the birdbath.  The book ends with Max’s protestation of love to a new object of desire (and we see that he has already broken off the tail).

max's chocolate chickenMax’s Chocolate Chicken is one in a series of over two dozen Max and Ruby books.  Ruby, usually well-intentioned, sometimes self-serving, tries to impose her agenda on her younger brother.  Indifferent to her priorities, Max always succeeds in following his own very different agenda, quietly making an end-run around his sister’s plans.  There is neither animosity nor rancor in their relationship.  There is much humor, however, as we watch Ruby persist, over and over, in her wrongheaded belief that she can prevail.

Rosemary Wells is a brilliant humorist, the best there is in the picture book world.  She learned what she needed to know about comedy and timing from Sid Caesar and Jackie Gleason.  Her touch is deft and fresh, subtle and intelligent.  Her amazing gift is the ability to appeal equally to children and adults – and the humor never stales, despite endless readings.  Who else can claim as much?  The storylines ring true (the siblings were based on the author’s daughters, Beezoo and Virginia), the writing is succinct and clever, and the illustrations create humor through minute shifts of mouth or eye that perfectly express characters’ feelings.

Max and Ruby are bunnies, but that is incidental.  With the notable exception of the white West Highland terrier who stars in the McDuff series, the world according to Rosemary Wells is filled with skunks, guinea pigs, raccoons, kitties, dogs, and ducks, all wearing clothes and behaving like people.

Aside:  “Drink your milk, Fritz,” said Fritz’s father.

           Fritz put a dab of relish in his milk

           so that it would turn a weird color.

           “Something’s wrong with it,” said Fritz.

                               (From Fritz and the Mess Fairy)