I like funny books. I like clever books. I like books with classy, quirky illustrations. I like books that come with a handwritten note from the author on an adorable peapod notecard to thank me for reading her “peas offering.” I like books that make kids think without being preachy, preachy, teachy books. And so, I like Rabbit & Squirrel: A Tale of War & Peas by Kara LaReau, with illustrations by Scott Magoon. I like it quite a lot.
Look at those two cute little critters on the cover! Would you believe it if I told you that this short tale has big lessons to teach readers about judging others, making assumptions and accusations, and learning to forgive and admit your own guilt? “What,” you ask, “All this and I get a cute little rabbit in overalls too?” Yes, yes, you do.
So Rabbit and Squirrel are both avid gardeners. They are also neighbours, but the kind of neighbours who have lived next door to one another for ages and have never even said hello. Rude, rude, rude! So when Rabbit awakens one day to find someone has snatched her “leafiest lettuce” she doesn’t waste a single moment and stomps over to give Squirrel a piece of her mind. (Love the fact that Squirrel answers the door wearing his undies and holding his toothbrush). The next day, Squirrel’s tomatoes get plucked and his peas are snapped. So, naturellement, he blames Rabbit. This means war. Why forgive, when you can fight! There is a charming twist in store, as the true veggie-thief is in fact a human gardener, who of course, has a very different perspective on things when she finds the two enemies wreaking havoc in her garden.
It’s not often you find a picture book that doesn’t offer the perfect, sweetness and light happy ending. I really like the fact that LaReau resists the happily ever after. Rabbit and Squirrel do not head off, hand-in-hand, nibbling carrots into the sunset. They do not agree to start an organic veggie co-op together. They fight, and they keep on fighting and we don’t know if they’ll stop. They might stop, “one of these days,” and “grow something new” together. Or not. No promises here, just an ending that’s real. It leaves even young readers with a great opening to discussion and self-reflection.
It wouldn’t be right not to do a little gushing about Scott Magoon’s artwork. The palette is rich and natural and in places, the colours look a bit faded, almost the kinds of shades you’d find on old seed packets. I adore the picture of Rabbit as she clutches the sad remains of her lettuce, with an expression that says, “I am the world’s angriest, most suspicious Rabbit and I’m gonna get you and your sugarsnap peas too.” Who knew a Rabbit could look so pissed off? Love it. You will too.
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