Home For a Bunny

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Home For a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

1956

Illustrated by Garth Williams

 

“In the Spring a bunny came down the road.

He was going to find a home of his own.

A home for a bunny,

A home of his own,

Under a rock,

Under a stone,

Under a log,

Or under the ground.

Where would a bunny find a home?”

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Home For a Bunny chronicles the search for home. A bunny passes a robin’s nest, a frog’s bog, and a groundhog’s log, before meeting another bunny and finding his rightful place in a cozy burrow. Garth Williams, the illustrator of Little Fur Family, Stuart Little, and Little House in the Big Woods, among others, provided the naturalistic illustrations – in his hands, the natural world awakening to springtime becomes the essential backdrop to the story.

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Home For a Bunny was one of fifteen stories by Margaret Wise Brown that were published as Little Golden Books. Launched in 1942, the Little Golden Books revolutionized the publishing world by creating a populist mass market for children’s books. Instantly recognizable with their gold binding and distinctive end plates, they were displayed prominently in metal racks and sold in grocery stores, five and dimes, and drug stores. They cost 25 cents. They continued to cost 25 cents for the next twenty years. Among the initial set of twelve books was The Poky Little Puppy which became the best-selling picture book of all time. Janette Sebring Lowry, the author, received a flat fee of $75.

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This Little Golden Book belongs to …

 

Before 1942, a popular children’s picture book might sell 10,000 copies. During the heyday of the 1940’s and 1950’s, one third of Golden Book titles sold a million copies or more. Part of this was because of affordable cost and accessibility and part because of a pool of extraordinary artists who created iconic illustrations that are instantly recognizable. Take The Shy Little Kitten, The Tawny Scrawny Lion, or The Saggy Baggy Elephant (Gustaf Tenggren), I Can Fly (Mary Blair), The Three Bears (Feodor Rojankovsky), Scuffy the Tugboat (Tibor Gergely), Little Boy With a Big Horn (Aurelius Battaglia), Chicken Little (Richard Scarry, who began his career as a Golden Books contract artist) – the art was eye-catching, highly original, surprisingly sophisticated, and nostalgia-inducing. The texts, in general, played second fiddle to the art. An exception to this was the writing of Margaret Wise Brown, whose poetic words were displayed in equal partnership with the illustrations. Among the most striking were The Color Kittens (Alice and Martin Provensen), The Whispering Rabbit (Garth Williams), and The Train to Timbuctoo (Art Seiden).

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Stuart Little

Star's Stuart Little Book

Stuart Little by E.B. White

1945

Illustrated by Garth Williams

It seems hard to fathom, but Stuart Little was blacklisted by Anne Carroll Moore, arbiter of children’s literary taste for decades while head of the children’s room of the New York Public Library. Was it the “monstrous birth” that some decried upon its publication? There was something unseemly about a two inch mouse being born, fully formed, to Mrs. Frederick C. Little, enough so that in the film version made half a century later the diminutive character was fetched from an orphanage. Children, forever willing to suspend disbelief, had no trouble with the details of Stuart’s arrival and immediately embraced him, gray hat and little cane and all.

For what a character E.B.White created – the debonair, steadfast, adventurous romantic who recognizes Beauty in the form of Margalo, the rescued bird, and goes in quest of his holy grail when she flies north. There is excitement along the way – his accidental roll-up in the window shade, his knight-like protection of his friend from the predation of the feline Snowbell, his being dumped into a garbage truck and taken out to sea.

The most memorable is his adventure at the Conservatory Water in Central Park. Dressed in sailor suit and sailor hat, he captains the schooner Wasp to victory over boorishness in the form of the Lillian B. Womrath. Few who have read the story can walk by the model boat pond without remembering the race. White could write movingly about boats, with which he had a lifelong and complex relationship. In a late essay (The Sea and the Wind That Blows), when he was thinking of giving them up, he wrote, “A small sailing craft is not only beautiful, it is seductive and full of strange promise and the hint of trouble.” All of which comes across in Stuart’s experiences.

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The tone changes when Stuart heads out of town. As he motors north in his beautiful yellow and black miniature automobile, filling up with five drops when he needs to refuel, White waxes lyrical. We hear the notes of Thoreau as Stuart enters the lovely village of Ames’ Crossing. In place of the schooner, Stuart acquires a canoe, Summer Memories, in which he paddles in an idyllic and completely imagined interlude. This is a book of exquisite tenderness, of quiet honesty, of goodness. It is a book about the search for the unattainable and the quest for beauty. When asked by Stuart what is important in the world, a boy responds, “A shaft of sunlight at the end of the dark afternoon, a note in music, and the way the back of a baby’s neck smells if its mother keeps it tidy.” What other writer for children had such respect for his young readers?