With Spring having finally arrived, and April & Easter upon us, you may start to see lists similar to this one cropping up all over the Internet. But I’ve got something that they don’t.
I AM a freaking rabbit.
So if anyone else presumes to tell you which bunny books are best… well, kindly thank them. Because it’s important to be polite. But know who the real guru is. If you’re looking to create the rockingest Easter Basket for your kid on this side of wherever, you’ve come to the right place: The Pooka Picks. I bet I’m the only Irish shapeshifting fey, masquerading as a domesticated rabbit, who works in a Children’s Library by day and blogs by free-time, that you know. Am I right? (That was a rhetorical question).
Alright. Enough chitter-chatter. Time to lay some Children’s Lit knowledge on you.
- Knuffle Bunny (Complete Set), by Mo Willems
Knuffle Bunny is a series of three books, Knuffle Bunny, Knuffle Bunny Too, and Knuffle Bunny Free, so to count it as one is sort of cheating but I don’t care. My list, my rules. The stories follow a little girl, Trixie, and her best friend – a stuffed animal named Knuffle Bunny – from infancy to genuine personhood. When the saga begins, she’s a baby and preverbal, able only to express herself in nonsensical exclamations.
We grow with her through Pre-K, to grade school, and end only when she’s a mother with her own little girl. I once tried to read all three stories back-to-back in a Story Time program, and almost ended up crying in front of a group of 30 kids and their caretakers. It was ridiculous. But the whole thing is just so cute, so funny, so real, and so touching. It’s hard not to get a little choked up. And although Trixie ends up with children of her own, you never feel like Mo’s saying that’s the only option. I don’t know who I love more – Trixie or her dad. I’m always so impressed with the way simple illustrations are able to convey such emphatic emotions – in this case, both the joys and tribulations of being a parent. Take a look at these faces:
You get to grow with the dad, too. He becomes bearded and a little more fleshed-out as the books progress. We also meet Trixie’s mom and her grandparents, and a fancy new robo-bunny that speaks only in Dutch. It’s amazing.
If you haven’t already read them, you must read them. If you don’t already own them, you must buy them. It’s imperative. It’s also very important that you choose a side. If you’re going to be part of Knuffle Nation, you’ve got to decide: is it pronounced “nuffle” or “kuh-nuffle?” Be warned: passions run high on this hotly-debated issue.
2. Piggy-Bunny, by Rachel Vail. Pictures by Jeremy Tankard.
As a creature with the ability to shift back & forth between animal forms at will, you may think that this book wouldn’t resonate with me. But Pookas are surprisingly empathetic creatures. Piggy Bunny is about a pig, named Liam, who wishes he were a bunny. (Can you blame him?) Everyone around Liam tries to convince him that he’s harboring foolish desires, but Liam is a pig who knows what he wants. He’s determined to learn to like lettuce, and to become an expert hopper. He gets pretty good, too, but he still doesn’t look like a rabbit. He enlists the help of his grandma in order to acquire a rabbit suit. In one of my favorite moments of the book, Liam asks his g-ma if she’s going to sew the costume for him, and she laughs outright and tells him “No! I’m going to buy it online!” I love that Vail’s book combats the image of the stereotypical, knitting, stitching, old-fashioned elderly woman — which fits with her overall theme. The message of this one is that it’s okay to want to be different. You shouldn’t struggle to be like everyone else if that’s not what you feel like on the inside. You should embrace what makes you glow, what makes you shine, what makes you you – even if it’s unexpected.
3. A Boy and His Bunny, by Sean Bryan. Illustrations by Tom Murphy.
A Boy and His Bunny is a silly, rhyming romp of a book. It asks a question that everyone’s thought about at one time or another: “What would you do if you woke up one morning with a bunny on your head?” The bunny is, of course, named Fred. If you love Bryan’s book as much as I do, there are two more to check out: A Girl and Her Gator, and A Bear and His Boy.
4. A Bunny in the Ballet, by Robert Beck.
Everyone knows that rabbits are fast, but it’s a little-known fact that rabbits are also phenomenal dancers. We’re graceful, spirited, and man, have we got the feet for it or what?! Check out my arches!
I know human ballerinas that’d kill for tootsies like these! But the world is filled with ignorant people and discrimination, and sometimes people judge us on our genus and species rather than on pure talent. In his book, Robert Beck shows that if you are willing to give someone a chance and look beyond appearances, they may surprise you. Plus, the illustrations – a mere suggestion of a rabbit done with sweeping, curving lines – are fantastic!
5. The Black Rabbit, by Philippa Leathers
The Black Rabbit, about a bunny who is literally scared of her own shadow, does one of my favorite things: it starts with a misunderstanding that children will immediately recognize, thereby giving them the opportunity to feel like smart little sleuths for figuring it out before the main character does. In this one, kids know that “the black rabbit” isn’t a big scary monster, so while the story builds suspense, it’s never scary. It allows kids to absorb by osmosis the idea that one day, they’ll be able to laugh at their own mistakes, and in the meantime it teaches them about being brave and confronting their fears. They’ll also love that while they’re listening or reading, they have the power, they have the knowledge, and they’re the smart ones with all the answers – because so often in their young lives, that’s not the case. It’s good to feel empowered.
** Hip & Hop Don’t Stop, by Jef Czekak
This is the tale of the tortoise and the hare, except instead of competing in a race, the two animals face-off in a rap battle. Hip the Tortoise raps slow, and Hop the Hare raps fast. I’m completely enamored with the story. Featuring rival contestants with names like Ludafish and Notorious P.I.G., it’s abso-fuckin’-lutely hilarious – but there’s a reason it didn’t make the list: while a good story to read to kids, I don’t think it’s great. You can make it fun, by altering the tempo and pace of your reading based on which character is rapping, but in my opinion, it’s more enjoyable for the grown-up than it is for the child – which isn’t really what it’s all about.
Before I conclude my post, I want to suggest a couple of books for those looking for slightly more alternative Easter gifts. I can’t really understand why anyone would want to get a child anything other than bunny-related literature, but these last two are great books and they’re oft-ignored. They deserve some love.
** Milo Armadillo, by Jan Fearnley
Tallulah wants a fluffy rabbit for her birthday, just like the fluffy rabbits all the other kids at school have. But her grandma decides to create a whole different beast for her – Milo, the Armadillo. Tallulah resents not getting what she asked for. She resents being different. She resents her grandma and her creative streak; she resents Milo. But then she loses Milo, and she realizes that she’s come to love her weird little play-pal. When she gets him back (as you know she will), it’s the happiest of heart-tugging reunions. She comes to realize that she likes being unique, and that there’s real value in it.
You could even pick up this li’l gal on Etsy for $10! She rolls up into a neat, compact ball – and then stretches back out again. And you can choose your own color!
I do want to point out, however, that not everyone has rabbits. Everyone has cats and dogs. After Easter, everyone goes back to forgetting about us. We rabbits are weird little beasts, too, just like Milo!
** The Boy Who Grew Flowers, by Jen Wojtowicz. Illustrations by Steve Adams.
I will always love this book, though it’s rare that I find the opportunity to recommend it. It’s so bizarre. It’s about strange love: a little girl with one leg shorter than the other, and a boy who grows flowers all over his body when the moon is full, come together and strike up a beautiful friendship. Neither one of them is normal but together, they find fairytale love. I’m sneaking it in here because Easter is all about Springtime: new growth, new life, and new love. It’s about blooming, flourishing, and being alive.
Here are a few more cutesy little add-ons from Etsy and beyond!
Tiny Bunny in a Carrot Sleeping Bag from wishwithme:
ANY bunny from Jellycat:
Aside from petting a real bunny, these stuffed animals are the softest bunnies you will ever, ever feel. They’re almost magical. (Believe me, I would know).
Flat Bonnie by Flat Bonnie:
Flat Bonnie helps raise awareness of abandoned animals, and the importance of adopting when you are ready for a new friend.
A portion of sales is donated to bunny/animal rescue organizations monthly.
I recommend the gray bun. We’re the prettiest.
That’s it! Happy Spring!
Remember to shop local! Support small businesses and appreciate the handmade!
And if you’re planning to get a real bunny this Easter, please take the time to educate yourself and find out of it’s the right pet for you and your family. Bunnies typically like quiet, do not like to be picked up (though we’re super snugglers and give kisses freely), and we have fragile spines. We have to be treated gently and with care. Rabbits are not outdoor animals (no matter what you’ve been told)! We suffer in extreme temperatures, become easily bored, and prefer to be in the same room as you, pretty much all of the time. We’re very social creatures! We can be litter box trained, like a cat, and can even learn to do tricks. We like to chew, but as long as you take the proper precautions, it shouldn’t be a problem. Bunnies need a steady supply of hay, water, and greens, and we’re a 10-12 year commitment. Adopting/buying a bunny should never be the result of an Easter whim. But we do have a lot of love to give. If you have any questions, contacting the House Rabbit Network is a great place to start.