‘Rabbityness’, by Jo Empson – a post for Picture Book Month

Three things have prompted me write about this book.

Firstly, today I responded to a tweet from Jess  ((@AliceinBakerSt) who blogs – brilliantly – at Alice in Baker Street) about which picture books people might be reading for Picture Book Month (which is a month-long celebration of the wonder that is the picture book.  A calendar of how it will run can be found here).

Secondly, I noticed that @playbythebook and @letterboxlib had mentioned the book on Twitter as a possible contender for inclusion as part of Picture Book Month today, as the featured theme is ‘rabbits’.

Thirdly, and most importantly, this book has had a profound effect on my family and I was planning to construct a post to that effect soon anyway.  I am hoping that, by linking up with the Picture Book Month theme, the book will get a little more exposure and therefore more of the credit that it deserves.

I have mentioned before that my mum died a few years ago.  Five years, seven months and fifteen days ago actually.  It was the 18th March, 2007 which, both fittingly and somewhat ironically, was Mothering Sunday that year.  I was 27 years old at the time and had got engaged a few days previously.  I got married in 2008 and my first son was born in 2009 (I always like to be fair, so I want to add here that my second son was born in 2011!).

Thus, Mum never met either of my children and on a daily basis this is something I find difficult to accept.  It hurts that they won’t know her in person or ever get to spend time with their unique and wonderful Granny Moo (as we have named her). There are photos everywhere and I talk about her constantly to both C and H (to the extent that, when Heaven is mentioned in ‘Iggy Peck, Architect’ – a great book that C is currently obsessed with – by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts – C always says, “That’s where Granny Moo lives.”).

However, I am forever striving for ways to help them gently understand what has happened to their granny and why their own mummy sometimes feels sad because HER mummy isn’t here.  I wanted something that would help them grasp, at their own pace, that just because someone isn’t around any more, it doesn’t mean that their presence isn’t felt.  As I am a Story Seeker through and through, I knew that one way to do this would be through books, but I just couldn’t find one whose tone felt appropriate for C and H.

Then I found it.  ‘Rabbityness’, by Jo Empson (@joempson).

This book is beautiful, not only because of the quality of its striking illustrations, which perfectly represent the constrasting emotions covered, but also because of the minimal but heart-rending prose that accompanies them.

The story follows Rabbit, who likes doing typically rabbity things:

as well as distinctly unrabbity things:

which in itself is a vital message for young children to hear – that it’s more than OK to celebrate your individuality.  This is cleverly shown in the book through the simple black, green and white colour palette used to illustrate the ‘normal’ rabbity activities, as opposed to the vivid, multicoloured explosions that depict the unrabbity activities.  The things that make us different are usually far more exciting than the things that make us the same and I want C and H to grow up believing this wholeheartedly.

One day, however, Rabbit disappears.

I will be forever grateful that, as a matter of course, I pre-read all the books that I share with the boys, because the spread pictured above caused me to burst into tears and I’m just not sure I’d have been ready to explain that to C and H just yet.  This is EXACTLY how I felt when Mum died, as though all that was left behind was a deep, dark hole.  In the book, the hole could just as easily represent a rabbit’s home which has temporarily been vacated as it could the metaphorical hole that loss of a loved one leaves in our lives.  It’s totally left up to the reader to determine where they think Rabbit has gone.

All is not lost though, as Rabbit has left some things behind to help his friends enjoy life without him, pointing them towards how fun it can be to do unrabbity things.  As the image below shows, this makes them think of Rabbit and feel happy again.

The story so closely mirrors my own experience of losing Mum, without being either incredibly depressing or overly schmaltzy.  I really like the fact that C and H may well interpret this story in a very different way from me at the moment, but that gradually it will encourage them to ask questions which will lead on to me being able to tell them a little more about what has happened to Mum.  Having said that, C is already pretty much at that stage and the questions have already started (part of the “Why?” phase), but I’m sure H still thinks that Rabbit has just popped out to get a snack or something!

As the back cover suggests, this book could be used as a starting point for discussions with children dealing with any kind of loss, as there are no references to whether or not the Rabbit has actually died.  As mentioned above, it can also be interpreted in many different ways by people who are experiencing the same loss.  In my opinion, this makes it just as useful a book for adults as for children.

It is a stunning book, whether or not your children have experienced loss, and lets us all believe that we all contribute something worthwhile in life, no matter what it may be and that our presence matters to those who care about us.

TTFN

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7 comments

  1. I saw in my inbox that playbythebook mentioned a rabbit theme too and thought they might be connected. Your post was very emotional – brought tears to my eyes. What an amazing book! Love the illustrations and that deep dark hole is certainly open to a lot of different interpretations. Each child/adult who reads it will see something different depending on events that have occurred in their life.

  2. Thank you so much for reading. It certainly is an amazing book and one of the most special things is, as you say, the fact that it can be different things for different people but equally important to all of them.

  3. Oh, I have a lump in my throat, thinking of you now. The book sounds marvellous – so glad you managed to squeeze in the time to write about it today. Thankyou.

  4. Thank you for sharing more of your story and the way you have used this book with your boys; very very moving. And poses lots of thoughts about remembering to be unrabbity sometimes!

    1. Exactly! Plenty more unrabbityness is called for in life, I think 🙂

  5. […] recently posted about an amazing book called ‘Rabbityness’ (you can read the post here), which is published by Child’s Play.  I have to confess that I don’t always remember […]

  6. […] those of you who’ve read my post about Jo Empson’s ‘Rabbityness’ , you’ll know that I’m a fairly (OK, ginormously) huge fan of her work already.  I […]

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