I’m not usually drawn to book jackets featuring cute animals, but there’s something that I find irresistible about Mini Rabbit. Perhaps it’s her improbably tall, straight black ears which signal optimism. Maybe it’s her large round eye or big head on a tiny body which make her look inquisitive. Perhaps it’s her vulnerability; she’s pictured alone in the deepest forest, oblivious to a pair of tiny eyes watching from behind a rock. The title looms large proclaiming, ‘Not Lost’. I’m not so sure. I think Mini Rabbit IS lost, but she just doesn’t know it!
The half-title page gives a clue that perhaps Mini Rabbit is going in the wrong direction. As we follow her onto the title page, the eyes follow too, peering out from a tree. The menace is softened by a singing blackbird and the cheerful colour palette. Mini Rabbit is unaware of potential perils. This is just the right amount of jeopardy to excite a young reader.
But wait… rewind. Where does this story begin? In the cosy kitchen of the Rabbit family treehouse, Mini Rabbit is baking with her mother. On discovering an empty berry jar and faced with the prospect of no cake, Mini Rabbit sets out to find some berries, heedless of Mother Rabbit’s advice. What follows is an epic journey during which the single-minded, cake-loving Rabbit traverses land and sea, mountains and ravines until reaching the mouth of a very dark cave. Young children will enjoy spying the eyes along the way. Older children will notice the signposts that Mini Rabbit misses in her determination to keep moving forward.
As a reader of stories, I was struck by the echoes of other stories. In a similar vein to Pat Hutchins’ iconic creation, Rosie the Hen, Mini Rabbit is unaware of the dangers close by, which the knowing reader will be quick to point out. And as with Michael Rosen’s Bear Hunt, there’s an outward and return journey, for which children might enjoy inventing their onomatopoeic phrases:
‘over the rickety rope bridge – creak crack, creak crack
‘through the long grass- scritchy-scratchy’
Red Riding Hood springs to mind when Mini Rabbit ignores her mother and strays into the woods, red rucksack strapped to her back. And I was reminded of Wind in the Willows when Mole ignores Ratty’s advice and sets off to find Badger’s house, deep in the Wild Wood.
I particularly appreciated that Mini Rabbit finds her way home using her own resources, simply by tracing her steps. There is no woodcutter or Badger to rescue her. When she finally arrives back home clutching a much-prized berry, Mrs Rabbit is delighted to see her, but there is no moralising, or sending to bed with a dose of chamomile tea. Instead, Mrs Rabbit congratulates her strong-willed offspring, ‘Well done Mini Rabbit. Now would you like some cake?’ For those who worry about messages in books and may be uneasy that Mini Rabbit hasn’t explicitly been reminded that she should listen to advice – well, the story opens a window for discussion.
There are opportunities for creative work. In the classroom, I would reach for a large roll of paper and make a big collaborative map of all the places Mini Rabbit passes on her way to the dark cave, adding sound effects. And then use the map as a prompt for retelling the story in the children’s own words. And of course, cake baking and decoration are a must.
It’s not entirely true that I don’t like cute animal stories, but I like them with an undercurrent of realism, and Mini Rabbit Not Lost, like Helen Cooper’s wonderful Pumpkin Soup, presents an image of childhood that is warm and loving, but never sentimental.
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