If you go to a bookstore this time of year, you’ll find dozens and dozens of books about bunnies delivering eggs. I’ve never much cared for those books. They remind me of the sort of Easter candies that say “chocolatey” on the label instead of “chocolate.” They’re sweet enough. And one or two won’t do you any harm. But they aren’t really chocolate. And if you like chocolate, why would you eat one of those?
And then there’s The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. If it were candy, it would be Pascha organic dark chocolate. (Yes, there is a brand of chocolate called Pascha. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should.) The fact that The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes gets shelved with all those other Easter bunny books is a real injustice. This book is what every other Easter bunny book is pretending to be.
The author, DuBose Heyward, was a novelist and playwright. He wrote the novel Porgy, which was adapted by his wife into a play and later inspired the opera Porgy and Bess. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes wasn’t something that he wrote for publication. It was a bedtime story that he told his daughter, who loved bunnies.
A friend, Marjorie Flack, heard the story and insisted that Heyward write it down so she could illustrate it. And so, in 1939, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes was published.
It’s the story of little Cottontail, a brown-skinned bunny who wants to grow up to be one of the five Easter Bunnies who deliver eggs to children all over the world on Easter Eve. These five bunnies must be the wisest, kindest, and swiftest of all the bunnies.
The rich white rabbits and the Jack rabbits all make fun of her. When she grows up and marries and has 21 baby bunnies,
the big white rabbits and the Jacks with long legs laughed, and they said, “What did we tell you! Only a country rabbit would go and have all those babies. Now take care of them and leave Easter eggs to great big men bunnies like us.”
And Cottontail forgets her dreams of being an Easter Bunny, and she raises her children to be responsible and independent and good.
And yet, she doesn’t forget it entirely. When her children are half-grown, one of the five Easter Bunnies becomes too slow for the work, and another bunny must be chosen. Little Cottontail (no longer so little) has grown to be kind and wise and swift and clever. And she becomes the fifth Easter Bunny.
But that isn’t the end of the story. It’s such a wonderful story. It is sweet and simple and subversive. You really must read it, and give it to your children, whether they are three or thirty.
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