Flashback Fridays: To dream the impossible dream . . .
Posted by Stephanie Whelan
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. What is out there is fairly painful, dull or commercial in nature. But this–this was different. This was about a girl bunny who wanted to be something nobody believed she could be.
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. They mock her for her background and for her gender, but they don’t completely manage to kill her hope. “Wait and see.” is her response.
At first it seems as though those who mocked Cottontail were right–that her dream is due to be deferred forever, she grows up and does what country bunnies always do: gets married and winds up with twenty one little bunnies to take care of. But Mrs. Cottontail isn’t ready to be put aside and counted out. 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. It’s a rare sort of success story in any kind of tale–a mother whose skills shine for herself, and who becomes our chosen bunny.
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.
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?) So often in our reading a girl who gets married or becomes a mom is just done with heroics and adventures. The message here is that such an idea is stuff and nonsense.
It is still a 1930s book, 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. Yet as a kid that’s the best part–and really, doesn’t the hero usually get something magical to help them?
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.
About Stephanie WhelanI'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.
Posted on March 26, 2016, in Flashback Fridays and tagged Authors, Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, fantasy, kidlit, literature, MG Books, Middle-Grade Fiction, Picture Books, Reading, reviews. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.