What’s Up with the Rabbits?

Writing a post about Easter books has proven to be simultaneously much more intellectual and much more difficult than I had originally thought it would be. Researching developmentally appropriate Easter reading for younger children (Popsugar, thoughtco, and beinglds feature some good lists of Easter books for children), I found at least four distinct categories of Easter books--and an intriguing running subtheme about finding yourself as an artist.

 Patricia Polacco has written many children's books about the immigrant experience. This one, about the author's childhood Easter memories, doesn't disappoint.

Patricia Polacco has written many children's books about the immigrant experience. This one, about the author's childhood Easter memories, doesn't disappoint.

Here are the categories:

  • Books that are actually about Easter
  • Books about Easter traditions (big difference)
  • Books about rabbits, ducks, and other animals, which are set during the Easter holiday
  • Books about rabbits and ducks

Our local library’s AMAZING librarians helped me find a few from each category so that I could review them for you.

Books That Are Actually About Easter

This was tough. If you’ve got a recommendation for a book, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

For younger children, I think National Geographic’s Holidays Around the World series book Celebrate Easter with Colored Eggs, Flowers, and Prayer does a great job covering the events leading up to Easter from Shrove Tuesday through Easter Sunday. It includes lots of pictures from Easter-related traditions around the world. In addition to the beautiful photography that you’d expect from a book published by National Geographic, it also includes an explanation of the basics of the holiday, a hymn, some arts and crafts content, a glossary, a note on the holiday’s religious meaning from a pastor, and resources for more reading. Torture and capital punishment content is minimal, with one photo of an Easter procession with a costumed Jesus with the crown of thorns carrying the cross. The great thing about this book is that it’s very visual and the read-aloud content is brief and to the point. If your child is curious, there’s lots of room to expand, but there is nothing too graphic or too complex for an elementary-school audience.

 It's a book from National Geographic. Of course the photography is first-rate!

It's a book from National Geographic. Of course the photography is first-rate!

I also tracked down The Very First Easter, written by Paul L. Maier and illustrated by Frank Ordaz—the same team behind The Very First Christmas. Even though it contains the same plot framing of Chris, the boy who wants to hear real stories, and the same sumptuous illustrations, my reaction was “This is a book for older children.” Maier is a Biblical scholar and he did a thorough job with the content--but this is a complicated and somewhat scary story. It’s not just me. Amy Julia Becker writes for Christianity Today that she's tried a few ways to explain Easter to her children and that she was unsuccessful. Her daughter was uncomfortable seeing Jesus on the Cross and that her younger son didn’t understand the concept of death. Becker says that she’ll keep trying and that she also wants to improve her own understanding of Easter. Christina Fox writes for the website desiringGod.com that she finds allegorical readings—such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe—helpful when discussing Easter with children.

Books About Easter Traditions (big difference)

This category was… all about the eggs, with an emphasis on Eastern Orthodox Easter tradition. Two of the books, Rechenka’s Eggs, by Patricia Polacco, and The Birds' Gift: A Ukrainian Easter Story by Eric A. Kimmel, were actually set in Eastern Europe. My favorite from this category is one set in the United States, Patricia Polacco’s Chicken Sunday. She retells a story from her childhood which celebrates one of the things I love about this country: how settling in this country lets Americans create families of our choosing as well as families of origin. The narrator says of her close friends Stewart and Winston, “They weren’t the same religion as I was. They were Baptists. Their gramma, Eula Mae Walker, was my gramma now. My babushka had died two summers before.” Together, the children come up with a plan to get Miss Eula the hat she loves in time for Easter Sunday.

  P. Zonka Lays an Egg 's chicken heroine is an artist. She's a little bit different than the other chickens, and her eggs are also different.

P. Zonka Lays an Egg's chicken heroine is an artist. She's a little bit different than the other chickens, and her eggs are also different.

No surprise, books about Eastern Orthodox Easter contain beautiful illustration. The Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous, a retelling of a family story from Pennslyvania Dutch country, won the Caldecott medal in 1951. If you like bling then check out lift-the-flap book The Golden Egg, by A.J. Wood. P. Zonka Lays an Egg by Julie Paschkis exuberantly puts folk illustration in the Eastern European tradition to work to tell the story of a hen who’s a little bit different. P. Zonka Lays an Egg was one of three books I encountered (see below for the other two) in which the animal main character's personal struggle was finding its medium as an artist. 

Books Which Mention the Easter Holiday But Are Really About Bunnies, Ducks, and Other Animals

Growing up, every year our immigrant household pondered Americans’ obsession with rabbits at Easter. My parents explained that Easter is about Jesus’ death and resurrection and emphasized that the religious holiday has absolutely nothing to do with rabbits. I have to say that although I still don't understand what rabbits have to do with Easter, this category does boast some inspiring content.

 Groovy! These bunnies are clearly no strangers to electric kool-aid.

Groovy! These bunnies are clearly no strangers to electric kool-aid.

Our family has a weakness for Jan Brett and she doesn’t disappoint with The Easter Egg, a tale of a rabbit who’s trying to find his medium as an egg artist. We also keep returning to The Easter Egg Artists, by Adrienne Adams. Its rabbit protagonist, similarly, is trying to find his style as an egg artist—but he and his family take their paints, brushes, and groovily-decorated car on the road and make everything around them groovy before returning home to fulfill mountains of Easter egg orders. Bently, the frog protagonist of Bently and Egg, has a different problem: the egg he’s been tasked with caring for has been taken—mistaken for an Easter egg—and it’s up to him to bring it back!

 The country bunny doesn't play--she delegates the housework to her children!

The country bunny doesn't play--she delegates the housework to her children!

The Country Bunny and The Little Gold Shoes is in a category all of its own. Petula Dvorak headlined her review for the Washington Post,  "A brown feminist Easter Bunny’s inspiring triumph." The title character, a little brown female rabbit from the country, wants to become an Easter bunny but gets discouraged by The Establishment (in this case, white city bunnies and jack rabbits). Not to worry, she goes back home, trains her children to do all the household tasks, and then reapplies for the job, using skills that she perfected at home to ace the job interview. Who wrote this feminist fable? None other than Du Bose Heyward, famous for Porgy and Bess. Who illustrated it? Marjorie Flack, famous in her own right for The Story About Ping. I have no idea why this book isn’t more well known. The New Yorker says,

Lyrical writing, glowing illustrations, fuel for the imagination, a sense of humor, and, of course, a message: plucky little girl bunnies who defy prejudice and believe in themselves can grow up to become fully actualized lady bunnies who raise smart, happy, kind children and do fulfilling work outside the warren.
— Kelly Bare, March 16, 2010

Books About Bunnies and Ducks

This category contains the classics: Pat the Bunny, Peter Rabbit, The Runaway Bunny, and Make Way for Ducklings. You really can’t go wrong with any of them. This year, the Internet led me to a new-to-me classic: Marshmallow, a 1943 Caldecott Honor book by Claire Turlay Newberry. This book showcases an unlikely baby rabbit/full-grown cat relationship: Oliver, a pampered tabby cat, moves beyond detente with the new baby bunny in his apartment to become his de facto parent. Newberry assures her readers that the story is true, and the beautiful illustrations indicate that she had an up-close and personal relationship with the rabbit and the cat.

 Marshmallow the young rabbit.

Marshmallow the young rabbit.

One bunny book that I’d avoid for Easter is The Velveteen Rabbit. It is a beautiful story and you have your pick of illustrators—but again, Easter is a complex topic. Do you really want to muddle things further with the story of a toy rabbit resurrected by a fairy?

Happy Easter, everyone!