Back in May when I was raking dead leaves off my flower garden, I uncovered a nest of baby rabbits. There was brief chaos: I wondered if I’d stepped on them or hurt them with the rake, it started raining, and my husband was on the phone and couldn’t immediately lend his more level head to the multi-aged feminine hysteria. A few minutes later, we’d picked them all up, ascertained that they weren’t hurt, put them in a box to raise — then changed our minds and put them all back, raking their comfy coverlet of leaves and rabbit hair back over them.
It was the beginning of a summer of watching over them. They’ve all come through to adulthood in one piece. One has sunned itself frequently in the yard; another hides under a pile of boards next door; the third got trapped in the garden one morning, and the girls and I cheered from the window as my husband tried to herd the little rocket back to the gate.
All this to say that we were an ideal audience for Rabbit Hill. This delightful story won two awards: a Caldecott for its illustrations, and a Newbery for its writing. It’s another book from my own childhood revisited with my children, and both daughters loved Robert Lawson’s tale about a patch of countryside with its lively population of animals, all imaginatively transformed into distinctive characters and dialects.
The central happening in this tale is the arrival of new folks at an abandoned farm, and the speculation of all the animals about what they will be like. To everyone’s delight they are as generous and humane as can be. I know, thanks to Elizabeth Rider Montgomery’s Story Behind Modern Books, that the new folks in the big house are Lawson and his wife, whose Connecticut property was so inundated with rabbits that they called it Rabbit Hill.
It was a fun chapter book to read aloud, largely because the personalities of the animals are so vivid: Father Rabbit with his genteel and courtly speeches, Porky the woodchuck with his earthiness and poor grammar, Uncle Analdas with his penchant for the adjective “dingblasted.” It lends itself to high drama! For an animal tale that doesn’t make you cry, you can’t do better than this.