Flashback Fridays: There are really five Easter Bunnies, and they must be the five kindest, and swiftest, and wisest in the whole world . . .

You’re a little Cottontail bunny with a dream.  A dream to someday be an Easter Bunny.  Others may laugh at your dream, but you won’t be deterred.

Do you remember:

The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward, illustrated by Marjorie Hack (Houghton Mifflin, 1939)

The first time I heard this story was during first grade.  It was one of our visits to the school library where the librarian would read us a story, and this time she chose a book about Easter Bunnies.  I was frankly enchanted. At some point in my childhood I gained my own copy of the book and loved poring over the pictures and reading the story.  There aren’t all that many Easter Bunny stories out there, even now.

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Little  Cottontail has a dream, she wants to be one of the five special bunnies that deliver eggs to children at Easter.  When an old Easter bunny retires, a new one is chosen, and this little Bunny hopes it will be her.  But the fancy rabbits and long-legged jack rabbits all laugh at her and tell her to go back to the country.  “Wait and see.” is her response.  But it almost seems as if our little Cottontail’s dream is due to be deferred forever, she grows up and gets married and winds up with twenty one little bunnies to take care of.  But Mrs. Cottontail isn’t ready to be put aside.  When her children are old enough, she gives them all tasks around the house and teaches them the basic chores.  She figures out how to run things smoothly and efficiently.  And when an opening comes in the Easter Bunny roster, she joins the competition.  Mrs. Cottontail proves that a mother bunny can be the swiftest the wisest and kindest of bunnies, and she succeeds in winning the post.

But near the break of day on Easter, our heroine is given one of the hardest assignments, to deliver a special egg to a little boy atop a high mountain.  She trips and falls on the way, and the old grandfather bunny appears with a pair of special gold shoes that allow her to practically fly up the mountain and deliver the egg just in time.

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It’s a charming story balanced and enriched by the illustrations of Marjorie Hack.  I still remember all the images from my childhood, enough that I’m going to have to buy a new copy of this book.  Looking back at this story now from an adult perspective, I can see places where the story has become very dated, but it’s still a favorite.  The fact that our mother bunny is presented as the heroine who succeeds, not only defying the class prejudice against her, but the gender prejudice is pretty remarkable for a book that came out in 1939.  It presents the image of a “can-do” mom.  She’s capable and nurturing.  Though I must admit I do wonder what happened to her husband.  He’s mentioned at the start of the book, but never again makes an appearance. (did he run off? Is Mrs. Cottontail a single mom?)  And while most of the story celebrates the young bunnies own abilities, the actual introduction of the gold shoes points to the one time when she can’t do the job and gets magical help.  That bit bothers me as an adult, especially since it seems to run counter to so much of the message in the book.

Still, I have to get this book to read to my kids and see what they think!

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DuBose Heyward was not a children’s author by trade, and is best known for his book, Porgy (1925) which inspired a movie of the same title and later was the source material for the musical  Porgy and Bess.  Marjorie Flack was a children’s book author and illustrator.  She’s likely best known for her book The Story About Ping (1933), which was illustrated by Kurt Wiese.  It’s surprising she didn’t do more illustration work given how talented she was at creating the art for some of her other books.

This book won me over as a child.  I’ve never forgotten the image of those little gold shoes hanging on the back of the door. And you will note, that they are indeed practical shoes, not some baubled high heeled nonsense.  Perhaps that’s what I enjoy most about the story–it has a pragmatic air about it that keeps things just a little more grounded–despite the magic and wonder involved.  Clearly this story may not work for everyone, but it’s a great little treasure for me.

Any other fans of this book?  Comments welcome!CountryBunny3

 

A Tuesday Ten: On the Warm Side

For this Tuesday, we’re taking a look at books that take place somewhere warmer than where I’m at right now.  I’m sitting here shivering and listening to the sleet hit the windows–and it’s the middle of April.  I’m ready for sun, sand, HEAT!  So to warm everyone up, here’s my ten for the week.

1.

Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Gerry Bothmer (Viking, c1948)

Since I brought up this plucky red-head the other day, it’s only fitting she kicks off this list. Pippi and her two friends go to visit her father on Kurrekurredutt Island.   There’s plenty of marvels and adventure there!  Especially since Pippi will have to defend the island against two  sea-going bandits who are after the island’s riches.  If you haven’t read them, don’t miss the rest of the  Pippi Longstocking series!  Loads of fun, and lots of laughter!

2.

The Lost Island of Tamarind by Nadia Aguiar (Fewel & Friends, 2008)

Fantasy islands are often lush and tropical.  That’s certainly true here when it comes to the island of Tamarind.  When their parents are washed overboard, thirteen-year-old Maya must get her younger sibs, Simon and baby Penny safely to shore.  But their boat washes up on a mysterious island that doesn’t show up on any maps.  Things are far from safe here on the island of Tamarind, there are pirates, flying fish, wars and evil enchantresses.  Somehow Maya must get her family safely back home. A companion volume, Secrets of Tamarind was published in 2010, but I can’t say for certain if this an ongoing series or just a duology.

 

3.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man by Tamora Pierce (Atheneum, 1986)

This is the third installment in the Song of the Lioness Quartet.  Alanna has earned her shield and is a full knight, but finds that she prefers to take a break from the tumult and attention of the capital and heads off to the desert.  She winds up staying with the Bazhir people, and both her and these fierce desert people learn something in the bargain.  It’s probably the weakest of the four in the series, but it ties a lot of plot points together that are necessary for the quartet to work.

4.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois (Puffin, c1947)

This Newbery medal winner of 1948 takes readers on an adventure with Professor William Waterman Sherman as he plans to fly across the pacific ocean.  However, the good Professor doesn’t quite succeed, and instead crash lands on the island of Krakatoa where he discovers a fantastical society. Wild balloon inventions, a wealthy diamond mine and eccentric inhabitants make this a charming adventure in a sunny clime.

5.

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge (HarperCollins, 2009)

What better way to warm up than to visit a tropical island?  Gullstruck island has sandy beaches, volcanoes, dense jungles . . . deadly betrayals,  strange magic and sleeping gods.  Hathin has always been the invisible sister, in service to the beautiful Arilou.  Her sister is hailed as one of the rare prophets of the people, one of the Lost, and so she is precious, despite her strange behaviors and need for care.  But when things go terribly wrong for her people on the island, Hathin must find a way to protect her sister and unravel the truth once and for all!

6.

Many Waters by Madeleine L’Engle (Laurel Leaf Dell, c1985)

In book four of The Time Quintet, twin brothers Sandy and Dennys are sick of the cold weather at home.  As a joke one of them tells their father’s computer to take the “someplace warm”.  Given that Mr. Murray has been working with tesseract technology, the computer complies, and sweeps the boys off into the desert.  But this isn’t just any desert, it’s the desert before the flood and the boys had better figure out how to get back home before the rains start to fall . . .

 

7.

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (Ace, c1982)

Harry was a girl who never quite felt like she fit in.  Living on the edge of a strange desert kingdom, she feels a desperate yearning, but doesn’t understand it.   Kidnapped and carried deep into that desert by a mad prince, Harry discovers that she’s part of a desperate gamble of a man who needs a hero to help save his people from a coming invasion.  Prophecy, magic, swords and horses, this is one of my favorite desert fantasy tales of all time.

 

8.

Parched by Melanie Crowder (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

A near future dystopia where the land is running dry.  Cities have been abandoned and whoever is left fights over the small amounts of water that remain.  Sarel has just had her parents murdered for the water that has supplied her tiny garden and family, now she must find a way to keep going and preserve her family’s secrets.  Musa is a diviner, a boy with a special gift for dowsing for water.  When he escapes the brutal gang that has held him prisoner, he winds up running into Sarel.  Can these two battered children find a way to trust each other and survive?

9.

The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (Scholastic, 2012)

The first book in this new series featuring Indian deities and avatars, our urban fantasy takes us to India, and the tropical latitudes of that country.  Ash Mistry knows something is amiss with the strange Lord Savage and his plans, but finding out the truth of the matter is about to put him in the path of danger!  Ancient relics and vengeful deities could mean trouble not just for Ash, or for his family, but for the entire world.  Ash’s adventures continue in the Ash Mistry Chronicles, with the third book out this year.

 

10.

Here Where the Sunbeams are Green by Helen Philips (Delacorte Books, 2012)

Madeline and Ruby are on a trip to Central America and they’re determined to figure out what’s happened to their dad.  Ever since he left on his latest trip abroad, it’s like he disappeared into the jungle without a trace.  The only thing the girls have to go on is a letter from their father that they’re convinced is a code.  But a code for what?  Suspense with just a touch of fantasy give us a wild jungle adventure  with two sisters out to save their dad . . . and maybe a lot more.

 What are your favorite reads in warmer climes?  Comments welcome!

Flashback Fridays: How can you expect a little child whose mother is an angel and whose father is a Cannibal King and who has spent her life sailing the seas to tell the truth always? . . .

You’re a super strong girl who lives with a horse and a monkey, filling your days with all kinds of adventures–defying the authorities and flummoxing criminals.  Do you remember:

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, translated by Florence Lamborn (Puffin, c1945)

 I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first encountered this red haired rebel and challenger of authority, but I knew I liked her.   Pippi Longstocking, the nine-year-old girl whose mother died and whose father is away at sea, lives on her own in her rambling house, Villa Villekulla.  She has has a horse living on a porch, and shares her home with a monkey . . . and has a suitcase full of gold coins.  Oh and did I mention she’s super strong? Pippi tells wild stories that may–or may not be true, but she unrelenting in her tale tellings.  She’s full of good-humored mischief and has enough impertinent questions to drive any humorless authority figure batty.  She was probably the first strong female protagonist I encountered–one who lived outside the rules of society, defied any need for protection, and did it all with a warm heart and a cheerful disposition.

Originally written in Swedish, Pippi was the brainchild of author Astrid Lindgren that started as a story for her daughter who was home sick from school.  That story evolved into a character who is beloved around the world and has remained a classic staple of children’s literature for decades.  The book has been published in 64 languages and made into a number of different movies and televisions series.   While there was a movie made in the US in 1988 (The New Adventures of Pippi Longstocking)  the most iconic Pippi was played by Inger Nilsson in the Swedish television series Pippi Longstocking (1969) .    In the late 1990s, a lightweight animated television series was created by Nelvana that followed Pippi’s adventures from the books.  Interesting tidbit of trivia I found: apparently Hayao Miyazaki had expressed interest in creating an anime feature based on the books, and had gone so far as to visit Sweden and the author.  The movie was never made . . . but knowing Miyazaki’s love of strong female protagonists, it’s too bad this never was developed.

There are two more chapter books of Pippi’s adventures that can usually be found on the shelves: Pippi Goes on Board (1946), and Pippi in the South Seas (1948).  These continued our protagonists’ adventures at sea and reuniting with her papa once more–while they’re not as popular as the original story, they can usually be found on library shelves. But that’s not the end of Pippi!  There were also several shorter, picture book stories that were translated into English, and a comic book series that’s only recently become available in the US.

Astrid Lindgren wrote more than the Pippi books, although they’re less well known in the States. The other one you might spot on the shelves in the US is Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter  (1981).  I’ve yet to read this one myself, but intend to.  Especially since the book features the marvelous illustrations of Trina Schart Hyman.   Some of the others may be in print in the states, but they’re harder to find.  Judging by the reviews, some of these other titles have met with mixed success.

Upon reflection, this was probably the first translated work of fiction I read as a child.  I wasn’t actually aware it was translated at the time, and only figured that out as an adult.  But I did recognize that the story took place in a different country.  I often wished I could go visit Villa Villekulla and share dinner with Pippi.

Any other Pippi fans out there?  Comments welcome!

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