In the context of our discussion about apparently sweet but deeply dysfunctional parent-child love stories, a friend of mine alerted me to Lisa Belkin's Huffington Post slide show about Children's Books Parents Either Love or Hate. (Belkin gives The Giving Tree a longer treatment, and provides a solid opposing viewpoint from someone who loves it, here.)
The Giving Tree tops the list, and Love You Forever is right up there. I was surprised, however, to see The Runaway Bunny at #3, as it's a book I've never thought of as hate-able.
Okay, yes, it's the story of a mother bunny who convinces her little bunny that he can never run away from her, because she'll always find him no matter where he goes. That might sound grasping. The combination of Margaret Wise Brown's simple, lyrical text and Clement Hurd's extraordinary pictures, however, has always made me feel that the mother here is firm and reassuring, rather than creepy.
Here's how it begins:
Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So he said to his mother, "I am running away."
"If you run away," said his mother, "I will run after you.For you are my little bunny."
I've written before about how much I love Margaret Wise Brown's writing (in Goodnight Moon, Home for a Bunny, Big Red Barn, and Wait Till the Moon is Full). Her sentences are simple and child-friendly and beautifully crafted -- she's really a poet. Half of The Runaway Bunny is her text, with Clement Hurd's black and white line drawings. Every other double-page spread is a giant wordless color painting illustrating how the mother bunny will go after her little bunny.
"If you become a tree," said the little bunny,
"I will become a little sailboat,
and I will sail away from you."
"If you become a sailboat and sail away from me,"
said his mother, "I will become the windand blow you where I want you to go."
(The next line is perhaps the only Margaret Wise Brown line I feel the need to edit when reading aloud: "If you become the wind and blow me," said the little bunny....)
The paintings are surreal and beautiful. I remember staring at them as a child, finding the bunny in the crocus when he's hiding in a garden, amazed by the mother tree when he is a bird. There's a playfulness here, a way in which the mother is engaging in her child's imaginative world.
And finally, Margaret Wise Brown is never heading for the tear-jerker ending. No, after all of that, here's where the story winds up:
"Shucks," said the bunny, "I might just as well
stay where I am and be your little bunny."
And so he did."Have a carrot," said the mother bunny.
That's a mom I can get behind.