Voyage to the Bunny Planet

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Voyage to the Bunny Planet by Rosemary Wells

1992

Illustrated by Rosemary Wells

Voyage to the Bunny Planet comes as a sweet boxed set with three slim volumes. It deserves pride of place in every nursery library, as much for parent as for newborn, for it serves as the perfect introduction to the upcoming adventure.

In each story, a young bunny child has a trying day. Take Felix in The Island Light. He suffers the humiliation of being sick in art class at school. The Soviet army-style nurse gives him scalding tea that burns his tongue. After a punitive visit to a doctor, he takes a distressingly icy shower. His parents, distracted by the malfunctioning boiler, neglect to kiss him goodnight.

Cartoon, Bunny Planet 7

Janet the Bunny Queen soars down from her celestial kingdom and carries Felix off to the Bunny Planet. He passes through an archway and lives the day that should have been, described in rhyming couplets. On a small island, Felix and his lighthouse keeper father weather a storm in their snug home, make apple pancakes, play gin together before a fire. The comfort of the scene is palpable, as is the closeness of father and son.

Cartoon, Bunny Planet 8

Of the 125+ books that she has written, Rosemary Wells said that Voyage to the Bunny Planet best describes her spiritual core. With wry humor and empathy, she presents a litany of the miserable or humiliating moments of childhood – each one of which strikes a chord of recognition. The alternate reality of the Bunny Planet captures the ineffable magic of childhood – harvesting the first warm tomato of the summer, helping the mother make a soup, falling asleep on a mossy forest floor, making toasted tangerine (“Place the sections on a log, directly in the sun. Wait until they’re warm and crisp. Eat them when they’re done.”) Rosemary Wells’ vision encompasses both the tribulations and the quiet joys of childhood, but the spirit of a benevolent world, here embodied by Janet the Bunny Queen, always prevails.

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Aside: Rosemary Wells is always on the side of the angels. She created Getting to Know You as a celebration of the glorious and timeless Rogers and Hammerstein songbook. Sing the songs and see the musicals – Oklahoma, Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific. From exuberant (“Shall We Dance?”) to lyrical (“When the Children Are Asleep”), from funny (“Happy Talk”) to poignant (“If I Loved You”), in the canon of Broadway musicals, it doesn’t get any better than this.

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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)