A couple weeks ago my kids and I brought The Country Bunny and the little Gold Shoes by Du Bose Heyward* home from the library. I’d never seen it before, and my daughter shoved it in the stack of books I lugged along as we were collecting ourselves to leave. When we did get a chance to read it, it took about 5 seconds to realize this book is a gem.
In the story, there are not one, but five Easter Bunnies. A little country bunny named Cottontail aspires to take the place of one of them when she grows up, but she is not fancy or big like the other rabbits, and they laugh at her dream. She, however, is not deterred.
Soon, however, she finds herself married and caring for many babies (21, to be exact). Once again the naysayers mock her, saying, “What did we tell you! Only a country rabbit would go and have all those babies. Now take care of them and leave Easter eggs to great big men bunnies like us”. Are you intrigued yet? Just wait.
Life goes along in a very ordinary way for Cottontail. Her children grow and she teaches them different household tasks, and they become impressively efficient. She’s not daunted by the difficulty or common nature of her job as a mother rabbit, but it does seem like her dream is out of reach.
Soon Cottontail and her family join the other rabbits at the Palace of Easter Eggs to watch the contests. It is time for Old Grandfather rabbit to pick out a new Easter rabbit to replace a retiree. Cottontail has no hope of her being picked; she thinks she is now just an “old mother rabbit”.
However, Old Grandfather perceives that Cottontail has every quality needed to be an Easter bunny: speed, kindness, and wisdom. To her surprise she is given a chance at the contest-and wins. Cottontail is chosen for the fifth post of Easter Rabbit. Her children go home, perfectly able to care for themselves and the house for one night.
Because of her excellence, Cottontail is given the most difficult job on Easter night, tested beyond the other Easter rabbits. She succeeds and returns home in time to give her own children Easter eggs, carrying a reward for her work.
I had to smile at one book review on the cover of The Country Bunny: “…she managed to realize her ambition in spite of her twenty-one children!” (Miami News) In spite of? Sounds kind of like the naysayers to me. The naysayers measured Cottontail by one ruler of success and found her lacking; they were oblivious to the nature of her character, her real value that went deeper than her status and (gasp!) gender. The country bunny defied the small-minded, demeaning voices of those who defined her by shallow standards. And she did it before she even knew what she had done: she understood that rabbit trails in life aren’t wasted time, but part of the story, and worth the investment.
Oh, there’s so much here. Thoughts on gender theory and gender equality and perspective on the home are bubbling in my mind. (It’s so hard to be concise and measure my writing energy!) But for now, I will say this: I hope so much that we can see value of character not so much in what is done as how it is done. I want to remember that strength of character can accomplish much, often more than others may give us credit for. The ‘little’ and obscure things we do in life are as valuable as greater things. In fact, they may even make us more fit for them.
Don’t be discouraged, little rabbits. Don’t despise what is small-person or act. Remember that it’s all part of the story. Work hard and dream big.
* Illustrated by Marjorie Hack