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Rabbit Hill Paperback – October 27, 1977
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About the Author
Robert Lawson (1892-1957) received his art training at the New York School of Fine and Applied Arts. His favorite medium, pen and ink, is used expressively and with detail in his black and white illustrations in The Story of Ferdinand (by Munro Leaf). In addition to illustrating many children's books, including Mr. Popper's Penguins, Robert Lawson also wrote and illustrated a number of his own books for children. In 1940, he was awarded the Caldecott Medal for his picture book illustrations in They Were Strong and Good and in 1944, he was awarded the Newbery Medal for his middle grade novel Rabbit Hill.
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One interesting thing about reading Children's literature from a different generation is that you can see the issues and themes that were being dealt with during that specific time. The main point of the book is living at peace with those around you, and an idea of communing together in such a way that everyone has what they need. This must have been appropriate for a country that was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression and was fighting war. I found the last chapter a little disappointing, but overall a great book for kids.
Sometimes when I read these Newberry books I wonder what age of child is supposed to read this? But Rabbit Hill is appropriate for the younger age of the spectrum, and will be a delight to the adult reader as well.
**Two interesting points. Lawson not only wrote but he also illustrated the book as well which deserves the extra star in the rating. It is amazing. Later on Lawson would win the Caldecott Medal in 1941 for "They were Strong and Good". I don't know how many people have had the honor of winning both the Newberry and Caldecott but I'm sure it's a small honored group.
Also, if you buy this book today you'll find one character missing from the text that was in the original. A housekeeper of the new family that is African-American and is believed to play to the stereotypes of the day, which of course is not PC today. What makes that even more interesting is that Lawson died in the 50s and the change was made in the 70s, so the change was made without the authors approval.
The book begins, as all good stories should, with the excitement of change: "On every side there arose a continual chattering and squeaking, whispering and whistling, as the Animals discussed the great news. Through it all could be heard again and again the words, `New Folks coming.' " Lawson then backtracks to introduce us to the plethora of creatures living on the hill, which he deftly depicts by revealing how they react to the news. Each subsequent chapter moves the animals closer to the arrival of the human folks, until the day they finally arrive, and then Lawson reveals how the everyone reacts to one another.
For all its potential for drama, there were actually only a few moments when I felt great angst. There was the scene where main character Georgie (a rabbit) fled a dog and was chased to the bank of Deadman's Brook. There was another scene where Willie Fieldmouse jumped from a window sill onto a rotten water barrel and fell into frigid water. My breath became hurried during those times and the scene where "the night air was rent by the hideous sound that brings a chill of dread to the heart...."
Mostly I felt as if I was strolling through the countryside and getting to know its inhabitants. There is Mother, worrying and working herself into a perfect frenzy. There is Father, carrying himself with the dignity of a Southern gentleman but also constantly talking about the good old days-which is why the other critters know to cut short conversations with him. There is Uncle, cynical and alone in his aging years. One grows to love them, the way one loves human counterparts.
In other darker ways, life on the hill is also amazingly similar to our modern human world. For example, the animals have overcome bad economic times, hope for more bountiful times, but also await the arrival of new folks with mixed feelings. Gardeners back then and now put out traps and poison and even use guns to drive off animals. Even those who were less aggressive often grew only skimpy gardens and discarded mostly inedible garbage. Yet there were also those, the ones the animals hoped would come, that produced lavish gardens and waste. When the new folks do finally arrive, they are heralded first as saviors but then there is that night....
Rereading Rabbit Hill as an adult, I felt at times as if being lectured about the welfare of animals. Or at least as if realism were stretched (such as when the new folks erected a statue of the patron saint of animals) to make a point. Perhaps it's only as an adult that I have become less permeable to morals in books, for I don't recall ever feeling those sentiments as a younger reader of the book. Rather like Georgie, I thrilled at the arrival of new folks and the potential for adventure.
This small criticism aside, I was amazed to discover that Robert Lawson wrote Rabbit Hill way back in 1944 and yet it never felt dated. It is a beautiful and gentle story that needs to be on the shelf of anyone who loves animal books.
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The animals of Rabbit Hill are waiting for the new owners of the property they live on.Read more