Rabbit Hill is buzzing with excitement. New folks are moving in and all of the animals are wondering what kind will they be? Will they have traps and dogs? Or will they be the planting kind? Follow the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit, their son Georgie, Phewie the Skunk, Porkie the hedgehog, Willie the Fieldmouse, and a host of other animals as they come to know the New Folks.
I first found this book on the shelf at our local used bookstore. The cover looked interesting enough, the author seemed familiar enough, and I was in need of a read aloud that all three children could get behind. As it turns out, the author was familiar enough – Robert Lawson (duh) author of the beloved Ben and Me and a host of other family favorites. Turns out the five year old was bored to tears with the story and often took off to solitary locations and play Playmobil, Lego’s, and whatnot. The 7 and 9 year old loved the book and inevitably begged me for another chapter. As for me? If I could have, I would have joined the five year old.
The story is a quiet one. The action revolves around the animal’s expectations of the New Folks moving to the farm. While the characters are charming and – if animals could talk – exactly what you think they should be, they are dull in their pontifications on the relationships between animals and men. Indeed, the entire story felt a little “preachy” with respect to the man vs. animal relationship. For example, when spying through a window into the living room of the New Folk, Willie Fieldmouse falls into a rain barrel of freezing water and nearly drowns. But the kind folks, evidently endowed with superior hearing, rescue him and nurse him back to health. I don’t like reading little tales like this as I am most afraid of the effect they will have on my children. Am I going to have to explain the mousetraps located in our basement?
The New Folks, as it turns out, are kind. Indeed, they feed the animals at the feet of St. Francis. In return, the animals leave the New Folk’s fenced garden alone and raid only the gardens of the less kind folks in the area. Again, I am skeptical. It is my experience that, regardless of the vegetable scraps left out for the local rabbits, the minute they happen upon tender beet greens, fresh lettuce shoots or (most recently) pea shoots there is little in the way of picked vegetables that will persuade them to leave the garden alone.
Some of the animals are malicious in their initial distrust of the New Folk. Mole, misunderstanding them, digs up their lawn. Uncle Analdis is sure the New Folk are going to use Georgie as a trap and manages to start a small revolution with the animals. The kindness of the New Folk persuade them, though, and they are sheepish in their admission of guilt. Though they don’t experience any negative consequences as a result of their behavior. Presumably, this is because humans always act in the manner initially supposed. How are the animals to understand the New Folk are, well, New Folk?
I realize my criticism is tedious to some and yet, reading stories like this have become tedious to me. Robert Lawson may have written the book in 1944, but myriads have followed since and I am drowning in the “be kind to nature” genre. It’s a short read, rich in vocabulary, and your kids will most likely enjoy the comedic caricatures of the various woodland animals. Just don’t expect to build a fence around your garden this year.
What You Need to Know
- Role Models/Authority Figures – The couple that move onto the farm are kind and take care of the animals (almost to a fault)
- Violence – Georgie nearly gets eaten by a dog, Willie the Fieldmouse falls into a barrel of water, and Georgie is hit by a car
- Sexual Content – None
- Language – “dingblasted”
- Consumerism – None.
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – Uncle Analdas smokes a pipe of “rabbit tobacco” (lavender),
- Religion – A St. Francis statue is brought to the garden and food for the animals is placed on and around it.
- Other –
- Awards – Newberry Medal