As of last Monday I really had no idea what I would share for this week’s art and story. But that evening I found myself looking again at some sketches I had pulled from an old portfolio several months ago. I think my interest in these finished sketches was simultaneously peeked as I put away the stuffed rabbits my son had gotten when he was little. I had an Aunt Bunnie, and when my son was little she seemed to like giving him stuffed bunnies for various birthdays and holidays. I don’t know, maybe she thought he would forget her name or something. But how many little kids, or even the mom of a little kid, have an Aunt Bunnie—Great Aunt Bunnie to him. She passed away last August and it seemed time to put the bunnies away, but maybe a story of rabbits needed to be told.
I did these sketches as part of picture book I had planned to write and illustrate when my son was young. At that time I was an editor of educational materials, but wanted to crack the trade book market. I didn’t have a lot of spare time back then, but I loved the idea that my stories would someday be published and catch on. I put together several picture book ideas (see 7/28/2018 for a complete picture book thumbnail). But for this one I had in mind the idea of mixing a kid’s fantasy life of playing with her rabbit next to the reality of owning a potentially very demanding pet. My fascination with having a pet rabbit started long before my son was born, and all told I had 5 pet rabbits. My first bunny I named Numbert. My mom and dad loved Pogo Possum (Walt Kelly cartoons) and Numbert was one of the characters that lived in the Okefenokee Swamp with Pogo, Howland Owl, Albert the Alligator and Churchy LaFemme. I got baby Numbert when I was a freshman at UCSD in the 70s. You weren’t supposed to have pets in the dorm, so I hid him in my room. My roommate didn’t seem to mind and would let Numbert out of his cage to hop around. As you may have guessed, that didn’t turn out to be a good idea because he would hop in my closet and poop in my shoes. Then he would jump onto my roommate’s bed and pee on her bedspread. But of course the story of Numbert didn’t end there. I had painted a giant tree and gumball machine on a wall in our room. (I’m not sure that was allowed either. I never bothered to ask, I just stood on my bed and painted.) That crazy rabbit would stand on his hind legs and lick the red paint off the gumball machine’s base.
There was a long dry spell, where I had no interest or opportunity to get another rabbit. But once I started teaching science at an elementary school in the late 80s I had a whole string of them, one after the other. First, there was a mini lop eared rabbit named Cookie (father named Chocolate, mother named Chip). She was pretty placid. I would let the kids put her in a cat leash and take her for a walk on the grass outside my classroom. That was pretty funny to watch as Cookie didn’t quite get how to go for a walk attached to a human. She would just randomly take off with the kids holding on tight to the leash, laughing all the way. When she got older she had a rather serious kidney infection. I had to give her injections twice a day, and she actually got better—surviving the kids, a serious medical condition and me. Then I was given a large lop eared bunny that the kids in my class named “Thumper.” After that I found myself the proud owner of a petite black and white spotted bunny named Hopscotch. Finally, I had a kind of standard white rabbit that I named Frisby. I had just read the book “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh” to my students and I named her Frisby. Of all my pet rabbits, Frisby had the most personality. And the ideas for the picture book you see here were mostly based on that sometimes very naughty rabbit with a little sprinkling of Numbert, the number one.
Frisby was long gone from my life before my son was born, but I guess I hadn’t quite let go of my love of bunnies and wanted to write about them. Frisby had some peculiar habits, but her bad behavior was probably my fault. I had trained her to use a cat litter box inside the apartment I shared with my then husband. But if I didn’t keep that litter box spotless, Frisby would have an occasional accident on the carpet or the bathroom floor. So, I lined our outdoor balcony with chicken wire and took to putting her outside. And sometimes I would leave her out there when we would go out for the evening. I know, I know… who’s the one with the bad behavior? But that turned out to be kind of hilarious because she figured out how to jump up onto a table out there and would be looking for us when she heard our voices as we were coming up the walk. Once we made eye contact, she would jump down and wait patiently at the sliding glass door. But of course leaving her out there unattended was not a good idea. I soon found out that she had figured out how to get in a small shed on that deck and she had chewed up the plastic handle of my then husband’s very small, very cheap suitcase. I thought her doing that so funny, but he didn’t think it amusing at all. It still makes me laugh when I think of him trying to show me what my rabbit had done to his suitcase, but he couldn’t hold it up because the handle was in shreds. OMG, it still makes me laugh. I am laughing right now as I am remembering all of this! Oh yes, we are divorced—no sense of humor is definitely grounds…
Anyway, between Numbert and Frisby, I was sure I had the perfect story of a child’s fantasy of having a fantastically wonderful pet rabbit, juxtaposed to the reality of a real live naughty rabbit. And on each page was the imagined bunny with the reality penciled in below. I never finished the story and actually don’t remember how I had planned to end this cautionary tale.
Even though I have no memory of how I was going to end the story I do remember how much I enjoyed them even with the warning signs of what might happen when caring for a busy critter. Maybe that’s the ending, be sure to enjoy your pet rabbit, but be on the look out as well. And if you start to notice that your rabbit jumps up on the outside table when she hears your voice, then waits at the sliding the glass door to be let in…maybe you have gone too far. Oh well! No regrets! Maybe the story ends like the “The Velveteen Rabbit” in a kind of reverse. Instead of the stuffed bunny becoming real, the good domestic bunnies get to become wild rabbits that run around the Descanso Gardens—free as bunnies can be. (That’s actually what happened to Cookie. I gave her to a friend and she let the rabbit run around in the backyard, free as you please. I went to visit her one day and that rabbit not only ignored me, but ran into the shrubbery when I tried to pet her. Of all the nerve!) But here’s the non-velveteen rabbit twist—the naughty bunnies are turned to stone like the one you see here, and they are forever left to sit in one place. And they will be tormented by the many children who like to sit on them and scream. Not sure, but this kind of ending doesn’t sound much like a book for kids, maybe more for adults who are fixated on some kind of weird rabbit revenge?
While wandering the Descanso Gardens today I discovered a nest that I’d missed. It is another one made by a local artist named David Lovejoy. It’s his interpretation of a Bower Bird nest. Google Bower Bird, you’ll see photos of their actual nests. They are definitely cool birds.