Rabbityness by Jo Empson, published by Child’s Play
Our nearly three year old daughter loves rabbits. For her second birthday she asked for a Peter Rabbit themed party, which included a home-made Peter cake, a radish and carrot banner and Beatrix Potter character cupcakes. Her fondness for rabbits was furthered by visits to a nearby petting farm, where we’ve spent many hours feeding rabbits, rare breed chickens, muddy pigs, goats, hamsters and, when it’s in the mood, a grumpy llama.
One of her current favourite picturebooks is Jo Empson’s Rabbityness in which, amid an initially grey canvas, we meet Rabbit. We are told he enjoys doing 'rabbity' things, like sleeping, burrowing and hopping around in the two-tone world. But as we soon learn, from the pages filled with musical notes and splashes of bright purples, lime greens and vibrant fuchsias that follow, Rabbit loves to do 'unrabbity' things too – painting and making music.
She is amused as we see a huge trumpet-like instrument that Rabbit blows to produce his melodic cacophony. We then see Rabbit face on, smiling at us amid his latest creation. Our daughter likes to point out how Rabbit’s love of art has left him covered with paint, splattered over his cheeks and ears. Rabbit is loved. We read that ‘all the other rabbits caught his happiness’, and that ‘he filled the woods with colour and music’.
Suddenly, on a page that is stark and empty, devoid of movement and sound except for a few falling leaves, we learn that Rabbit has disappeared. “Oh no! Where’s he gone?” our daughter asks. The rabbits are sad and can’t find him anywhere. The woods turn ‘quiet and grey’, and a deep, dark hole appears, which we’re told is ‘all that Rabbit had left’.
Deep down in the hole, the other rabbits find he has left them some gifts: ‘Lots of things to make colour and music’. Inspired by their absent friend, the rabbits ‘filled the woods with colour and music once again’, with strings of art hanging between tree branches, adorning the wood in waves of colour like a grove of Nepalese prayer flags.
Rabbityness is a beautiful, unusual and impactful picturebook that weaves together several important themes: The value of individualism and originality; the benefits to oneself and others of stepping outside a comfort zone; and encouraging children to celebrate differences. It would also be a sensitive and ideal choice when a child has experienced loss (perhaps to be read alongside Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies, reviewed here).
Rabbityness was shortlisted for the 2013 Waterstones Children's Book Prize.