We’ve all known children who have tried every tactic to avoid doing something that worries them. And that’s the subject of Fiona Roberton’s latest picturebook, Ready Rabbit?
After feigning sickness by painting green spots all over her face fails, Rabbit imagines all the terrible things that could happen at the party. That is until an encouraging voice reminds her that parties are packed with enjoyable things, especially CARROTS. Later at the party, Rabbit notices Hugo, a tortoise, hiding in his shell. Rabbit coaxes Hugo out, and the story ends with them both enjoying the dancing.
Roberton has a skill for creating instantly relatable characters. Rabbit has appealing, large, round eyes and gorgeous, expressive ears are a shorthand to her emotions. They reminded me of the way Alexis Deacon’s Beegu communicates her feelings. There will be plenty of sympathetic ‘ahhhs’ from young readers when this story is read to them.
The book is thoughtfully designed to provide variation in pace, which supports reading aloud as well as adding visual interest. This is rendered through a mix of flat colour backgrounds alternating with white space, which keep the eye engaged. Single images on a page provide moments of reflection, and multiple images show sequences of actions which advance the story.
The double-page spreads are glorious. ‘What if…?~ questions squeezed into a monochromatic page in which Rabbit is confined to the bottom right-hand corner exaggerate her anxiety. A page bursting with carrots accentuates her joy.
A tortoise-eye view presents an alternative perspective, which may not be immediately evident to a young reader. Similarly, some of the sequences, for example, Rabbit walking downstairs (when she is feeling glum) and upstairs (when her mood is lifting) may also perplex the youngest readers. They might interpret the page as showing three rabbits following each other rather than one rabbit walking downstairs. Talking about the pictures develops visual literacy and helps children to learn about the conventions.
Children who already know Roberton’s other books will love the intertextual reference; spotting her characters including Spot, Squirrel, Cuckoo and Fang at the party, which ends in a splash of uplifting rainbow colour.
The text is laid out in a way that will encourage young readers to read long and fill in the words when the adult pauses. ‘No.’ ‘See?’ ‘Yes!’ and ‘Carrots’ will be picked out partly through knowing how the story goes and partly through visual memory.
I have used the female pronouns in this review, but one of the joys of this book is that Rabbit is ungendered. This is achieved because the story is told entirely through dialogue – Rabbit converses with an invisible narrator. By implication, this is the person reading the book because Rabbit looks directly out from the pages to answer the narrator’s question. Some readers might assume Rabbit is male because she wears a superhero costume to the party. Still, in the absence of a universally accepted gender-free pronoun and to avoid the clumsy s/he, I have opted for the female pronoun. It will be interesting to ascertain if the children attach a gender to the character and what clues they base their assumption on.
In summary, another delightful book which has broad appeal. This makes it an excellent choice to read to siblings have a 2 or 3 year age difference. It will also work well in the early years and key stage one setting.
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