Easter means many things to many people. It is a Christian celebration, a pagan rite, an excuse to sport a frilly bonnet, and for me, a time to dismember a chocolate bunny, starting with the head. Yes, it’s all about the rabbits, regardless of what anyone tells you.
Lovely picture books about rabbits abound, and I could easily pen a few words at any time of the year. However, Easter is when my brain is at its most bunny-filled and hare-focused, and while these internal images are of a similar breed (chocolate), I am willing to direct my thoughts to rabbits of the illustrated variety for the purposes of giving further exposure to a few bunny-centric picture books.
Catherine Rayner is one of the most delightful illustrators working today. I say delightful because her vibrant, joyful illustrations fill me with…delight. In Harris Finds His Feet, a young hare is curious about his enormous paws. I am very familiar with hares, as they populate the grounds where I work in rather astonishing numbers. And yes, their feet are huge. Good thing too, as these guys don’t hibernate through our long winters, and a sizable pair of boots is an absolute necessity to keep warm. Harris is introduced to Hare Feet 101 by his grandad, who explains that big feet allow rabbits to spring into the air, ‘hop to the top of the world…and look out where the birds fly and the wind tickles your whiskers.’ I’m not sure if there are actual mountain hares, but the illustration of Harris and grandad scaling the hillside are, well…delightful.
The watercolour illustrations are full of light and air, loosely drawn and yet each surface, especially grandads’ fur, is rich with speckled texture. Rayner is particularly adept at capturing personality with a swish of a line or a comically exaggerated feature, like a pair of big ol’ bunny feet. She is also very good at using white space, zooming in or out of the image as the illustration requires. The paintings in Harris Finds His Feet are beautiful, and like each of her stories, infused with real warmth and charm. I am particularly fond of the two page illustration of grandad showing Harris how to dig a cool resting space in the earth on hot days. Long shadows and a few scattered clumps of dirt wonderfully convey the lesson. I can almost hear the thump of the old rabbit’s foot on the ground. As I said in my review of Sylvia and Bird, Rayner’s art has a restorative quality, like a cool breeze. There is something exuberant in how she plays with the page; an openness to possibility that shines through in every illustration, from insects flickering through the blades of grass to the tips of Harris’ enormous feet.
One would think that a book called Wolves would not involve rabbits, but it does. A specific, long-eared white rabbit to be exact, who borrows a book (also called Wolves) from West Bucks Public Burrowing Library. We see the sign-out card, the first page two pages of the book depicting a pack of gray wolves bursting out of a box, and in the corner, the rabbit immersed in his story. This is an Emily Gravett picture book, so we know that rules will be broken, perspectives warped, and no one, especially the wolves, will stay put on the page. I am certain that young Emily Gravett never once thought to colour within the lines, and it plays out in her wonderful, chaotic illustrative style. As the rabbit learns more about wolves, the subject looms larger and larger on the page, until the rabbit is strolling through the fur of the wolf, tail-deep in Gravett’s pencil strokes. When the rabbit gets to the part of the book that talks about the wolf’s diet, he is smack between the hungry eyes of the wolf.
Rayner seamlessly incorporates real imagery with her illustrations, like the photo of a scratched and shredded book on the following page, and a disclaimer stating that ‘no rabbits were eaten during the making of this book.’ Particularly amusing is the ‘alternative ending’ where the wolf is actually a vegetarian and the two share a jam sandwich. And yet…the very last page is tumble of the rabbit’s unread mail, including an overdue library book notice. Hmm…
I love pencil marks on paper. Seems self-evident, as I am both an illustrator and an appreciator of illustration, but while sketches may start in pencil, rarely do they make it to the final printed illustration. Emily Gravett’s art is full of the messy business of drawing. There are smudges and scribbles and everything is just so visually delicious, I want to eat…oh, sorry rabbit. You know what I mean.
Emily Gravett is the author of many critically acclaimed books, including the Kate Greenaway Award–winning Wolves and Little Mouse’s Big Book of Fears. She is also the author and illustrator of Again! (shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Award), Wolf Won’t Bite!, Blue Chameleon, The Rabbit Problem, Dogs, Spells, The Odd Egg, Monkey and Me, Orange Pear Apple Bear, Meerkat Mail, and to be published in April, Matilda’s Cat. I have previously reviewed The Rabbit Problem. No wolves in this book, just a mathematical conundrum and a guy named Fibonacci.
Award-winning author and illustrator Catherine Rayner was born in Harrogate and now lives in Edinburgh. She has a BA Hons in Visual Communication and Illustration from Leeds College of Art and Edinburgh College of Art. Catherine’s other books include Sylvia and Bird, Norris, the Bear who Shared, Posy, Ernest, and most recently, Solomon Crocodile. Harris Finds His Feet won the 2009 Kate Greenaway Medal. I have previously reviewed the wonderful (and equally delicious) Sylvia and Bird.
Like Harris Finds His Feet and Wolves, these other ‘Easter’ these books may or may not have anything directly to do with Easter, but what they lack in seasonal relevance they more than make up for in the number and quality of rabbits:
On Tumbledown Hill – Tim Wynne-Jones (kind of a stretch, rabbit-wise, but a great book.)
Harris Finds His Feet by Catherine Rayner, published by Good Books, 2008
Wolves by Emily Gravett, published by Simon & Schuster, 2005