Turning No to Yes

No! Said Rabbit – written and illustrated by Marjoke Henrichs
Peachtree Publishing, 2021

This is a lovely and unpretentious book about the reflexive response of toddlers, “No,” when asked to do almost anything.  There is no irony or sly humor; instead, Marjoke Henrichs succeeds in conveying the emotions of the young rabbit and the patience of his mother at the same time. The pictures, “created with wooden stick, ink, gouache, and colored pencil,” are perfect for expressing the rabbit’s world and his world view.  The design of each page reflects careful attention to a young child’s attention span and to the types of objects and their placement which she would find appealing.  Even the pictures themselves are closely enough related to a child’s artwork that their deceptive simplicity goes almost unnoticed.  From beginning to end, No! Said Rabbit performs beautifully.

Rabbit’s room has all the basic necessities of toddler life: blocks, pull-toys, a ball, a clothes rack with striped tee shirts, and a blanket large enough to trail off the bed and onto the floor. His mother’s cheerful reminder that it is time to get dressed earns a “NO!” in large font.  Rabbit’s thoughts are in a different font, in lighter gray and with almost-cursive elements. He walks past his tempting breakfast, although he is clearly interested: “But I can see juicy orange carrots…” Every action meets a reaction, and every one of his mother’s statements meets a compromise between outright defiance and half-compliance.  Why would he want to go outside when so many toys tumble out of a box, but, then again, there would be advantages to an outdoor trip: “But those are lovely rain boots.”

Children will be eager to hear the next page, and excited by a full-page list of text bubbles, each containing another suggestion and another refusal.  Here Rabbit’s face is smudged with swatches of dark crayon, as if an angry toddler had actually drawn across it. When he finally gets into his bath, this issue is resolved, and the book’s dénouement begins. He will definitely not say “no” to a hug from his mother.  Bedtime is another story…Reading and rereading this book with children could become a cyclical event and a satisfying one. The little rabbit gets to negate every rule while finding convenient reasons to do what is actually best for him. The mother doesn’t get angry. Each compromise activity is a lot of fun.  Finally, in a moment which as most caregivers will recognize, he is just too tired to resist sleep.  Time to start the book again.

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