Monday, May 24, 2010
Rabbit Hill, by Robert Lawson
The story is told from the perspective of the small animals - rabbits, mice, a mole, and a woodchuck, to name a few - living around a vacant homestead, who are anthropomorphized enough to have recognizable societal rules and language, but maintain their major animal habits. The animals have heard that there are "new folks" moving into the house, and there is much discussion over what sort of people they will be. Good farmers, who will stock the seed shed well and take care of their crops? Shiftless people who will let the crops die in the field and leave everyone hungry? Cruel ones, who will fumigate their burrows and set traps?
The new folks are a surprise to all the small creatures - when a young mouse falls into the rain barrel, he is rescued and given a warm bed of cotton until he recovers. When a rabbit is struck by a car, he is rescued, splinted, and nursed back to health, and signs are erected warning motorists to drive slowly. The animals are wary and don't necessarily trust the new people (they are human, after all), but they do find that they respect them.
The book ends on a spiritual note. A statue of St Francis is put up in the garden, and a nightly spread of food put out for the animals at its feet. The animals are, as I mentioned before, wary of humans, but refer to St Francis as "our saint" and agree that their benefactor's crops in the field should be sacred and left alone. The tone at the end was a somewhat startling shift in the mood of the book, but it was actually very touching.
The book itself has some charming elements. Georgie, the young rabbit who is as close to the protagonist as the book has, makes up a song as he travels to his uncle's house, and the tune is in the book (and catching - I had it in my head for a day afterward!). The illustrations are lovely, and there is a clear message about being kind to our fellow creatures. For those who have read Thornton W. Burgess' Mother West Wind series, this book will strike a familiar chord.