Monday, March 5, 2018

The Rabbit and the Shadow - a review

The Rabbit and the Shadow 
Eerdmans, 2018
(originally published in France)

It’s a good idea to step out of our cultural bubbles from time to time. One way to do that is experiencing books from other countries. These books often have an instant feel of “otherness,” when compared to our own American canon of children’s literature. Some examples are the dark humour of the British, Jim: Who Ran Away from his Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion (yes, he does get eaten!) , the family realism of Spain’s, Manolito Four-Eyes , and the beautiful, cutting and cautionary,  Queen of the Frogs from Portugal. 

When I entered my name to win a copy of The Rabbit and the Shadow by Mélanie Rutten, I did so because even on my laptop screen, I could tell that the illustrations are exquisite. When I won a copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers, I was also pleased to see that it was originally published in France.

The pen and watercolor illustrations are in gentle hues that fit the story’s outdoor setting. Most are small vignettes that expertly accompany the nearby text.  Rabbit is the story’s main character, but his life becomes entwined with those of the Soldier, the Cat, the Book, a Shadow, and the Stag, Rabbit’s caregiver. When the Soldier forcibly takes Rabbit from his hiding hole, a small vignette manages to encapsulate the vastness of the unknown world, the fierceness of the Soldier and the apprehension of the Rabbit.

The familiar valley lies behind them, and a red sky ahead hints at a dangerous future as the Soldier points his sword toward the future with the Rabbit in his grasp,

“And he dragged the Rabbit off, shouting: ‘On our own! On our own!’ “

The Rabbit and the Shadow is a lengthy, thoughtful book that is best suited for older children.  Although the Soldier has abducted the Rabbit, the Soldier bears him no ill will. The Soldier is merely angry, and the reader will find that the Soldier harbors a secret. The Cat suffers from a recurring dream that will not resolve; the Book searches for knowledge. The Stag searches for his Rabbit. The Shadow searches for nothing, and is ironically enlightening, as Rutten explores the weighty issues of anger, responsibility, separation, and growing up.

Artfully placed in the center of a beautiful yellow-hued palette, are the following words, surrounded by a dreamlike border illustrating the characters’ thoughts

“‘What do you think about
 to feel less afraid?’
asked the Rabbit.
‘Nice things from the past,’
 replied the Soldier,
 ‘like eating rice pudding cake
 when I was little.’

‘You’re still little!’ said the Cat. ‘Me, I think
 about nice things to come.’
‘Like when you’ll have a mustache?’
 teased the Soldier.

The Cat thought about his dream.
They all though for a moment,
about their dreams. “

I don’t know if The Rabbit and the Shadow is typical or exemplary in French children’s literature. Here in the United States, it is strikingly attractive, thoughtful, and distinctive.

If you're interested in reading the best in books from other countries, ALSC recognizes excellence in the category every year. The Mildred L. Batchelder Award is awarded yearly to “the most outstanding children’s book originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States, and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States.”

This year’s winner of the Mildred L. Batchelder Award is TheMurderer’s Ape by Swedish author, Jakob Wegelius. 

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