Bunny’s Book Club – Annie Silvestro and Tatjana Mai-Wyss, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2017
Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree – Naoko Stoop, Little, Brown and Company, 2014
It is a well-known fact that animals love to read, especially eager and bookish animals who befriend both people and fellow nerds of their own species. The obvious appeal to children of recognizing fellow book lovers who happen to have four legs is inventively exploited in two stories about the need to read.
In Bunny’s Book Club, a persistent young rabbit who knew of his affinity for books “….ever since he first heard the lady with the red glasses reading aloud outside the library.” Being on the outskirts and looking in are not enough for Bunny, who devises a plan to “break in” to his favorite place, using a flashlight and a convenient book drop. Soon his friends, including a porcupine, a mole, and bear, want in on the action, and they eventually spend hours enjoying their illegally borrowed books both in the library and in Bunny’s cozy home. The fun ends, almost, when they are caught by an understanding librarian, possibly one of the most appealing created in children’s literature. She issues them cards, and the fun never stops.
“They scattered about, sniffing the stacks, pawing over pages.
Squirrel gathered stories about the circus.
Raccoon nabbed one about outlaws and bandits.
Frog found a fairy tale.”
Tatjana Mai-Wyss’ pictures bring to mind the comforting order-of-chaos of Winnie the Pooh and his friends in their homes. In one picture, Rabbit sits on a rather high easy chair, his feet resting on a stack of books. The chair is flanked on both sides by more stacks and a lamp with a floral shaped bulb shines on the huge volume he is reading. Like a tent improvised from pillows and blankets, reading takes place in a quiet and secure place. It also takes place in the library, where the person who first brought books to Bunny’s attention with her red glasses and her animated voice, reassures the animals that reading is wonderful and so is following rules. She bends down to their lowest level to give cards to Bunny, along with his mouse, frog, and other friends. Bear towers over her, but he seems just as awed as the smaller animals. The librarian is every adult who has ever encouraged kids, but also set limits.
Naoki Stoop has both written and illustrated three books so far about Red Knit Cap Girl, who small stature and determined nature, along with her signature red cap, make her a kind of superhero for young children. In Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue she reunites a polar bear cub with his mother. In Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree her goal is less dramatic but equally important. Seeing a hollow tree trunk, she tells her animal companions, “I have an idea.” She places the book she is reading inside the hollow trunk, now a “nook,” and promises that everyone can share it. Soon Squirrel, Hedgehog, and Bear follow her example, while Beaver and others start the physical construction necessary to have a real place to read in comfort. Even Sly Fox, previously a book stealer, joins in and learns that “A library is a place where anyone can borrow a book.”
If the text sounds didactic, the pictures work with it to create an idyllic and yet practical universe. People bring books, build, and share. The earth tones of the nook itself and the rustic “Library” sign is brightened by two shelves of books in several colors and sizes, along with a carefully folded stack of blankets, each picking up the color of some of the volumes. Some people, and animals, also go to the library to read periodicals, so copies of The Forest Times are neatly positioned on a leafy branch.
It’s easy, perhaps, for some adults to forget what it felt like to first fall in love with books. Both Bunny’s Book Club and Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree will bring that experience back and help to introduce it to a young reader.