Mr. Rabbit

Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
One of Charlotte's most popular books, and deservedly so, Mr. Rabbit has a beautiful, understated surreal quality, with gorgeous impressionistic illustrations by Maurice Sendak. The rabbit, slightly louache in appearance but always respectful, helps the girl figure out for herself just what the perfect present for the girl's mother's birthday might be.  It is taken as a matter of course that a rabbit and a girl might have such a conversation as they take a thoughtful walk together; there is no touch of "let's pretend." It is this matter-of-factness which really casts a net of enchantment over young readers, and makes the story such perfection. 

Despite his laidback and homey appearance, Mr. Rabbit is a sophisticated international traveler. Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present has been published in Chinese, Japanese, French, Spanish, Korean, Dutch, Finnish, German, and many other languages.

How & why Charlotte came to write Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
Although the sensuality and love of nature which flow thorough Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present are part of many of Charlotte's books, the story is in other ways unique among Charlotte's titles, primarily because of the title character. In no other book of Charlotte's is there featured a character at all like Mr. Rabbit --- an animal who converses with a human child. How did he come to be? 

It started with color 
"Originally, Mr. Rabbit was two separate manuscripts," says Charlotte. " I wanted to do a book called The Color Book. Each page would be about a different color, and the things in the world which were that color, and each would begin the same way 'Red is a good color', and so on. I submitted the story, but it was turned down --- wisely, I think. There was something nice about the idea, but there were no children in it, and no relationships. The color bits were more like poems." 

Eventually  "the color bits" were published in poems, in Charlotte's 1987 Everything Glistens and Everything Sings, New and Collected Poems (published by Harcourt Brace, illustrated by Margot Tomes, and dedicated to one of her authors, the poet and anthologist  Lee Bennet Hopkins). You can see one of those color poems --- the one on yellow --- at Everything Glistens(Right, Maurice Sendak's delightful Mr. Rabbit and little girl contemplate the red of a roof.) 

Then came a birthday bouquet... 
One June --- Charlotte's birthday month --- she became aware that her then-young daughter aque2.jpg (30920 bytes)was trying to figure out the perfect birthday present for her. "I suggested she might go up to the aqueduct " (a long walking path and trail, now a New York State Park, a section of which ran just above Charlotte's street in Westchester) "and pick a bouquet for me." (To left, a picture of a section the aqueduct, not far from Charlotte's house, courtesy of Michelle C. Pettit, a Westchester-based attorney and web site designer. Her link offers several more pictures of the trail. Less visual and personal but detailed information is at the Torrey Botanical. aqueduct page). 

Once again, Charlotte started thinking about color and how it might fit into a children'sa rab 2.gif (49704 bytes) book, this time playing with the idea of a child trying to figure out a present for someone they loved, by color. "But if you told a child to go by color, some would be silly, like butter for yellow. I started thinking who a child might go to for advice." This was in the back of her mind ... as was a large and delightful imaginary rabbit, one named not Mr. Rabbit, but Harvey. (Right, Mr. Rabbit and the little girl continue their discussion of red, by an apple-covered tree.) 

And then the Rabbit

Irish playwright Mary Chase won the 1944-45 Pulitzer for the enchanting play Harvey, about a good-hearted inebriate named Elwood P. Dowd, and his constant invisible companion, a six-foot rabbit --- Harvey. Five years later, the play was later made into a beloved movie, harvey.jpg (21554 bytes)starring James Stewart, with Josephine Hull, who won a best supporting actress Oscar for her portrayal of Elwood P. Dowd's long suffering sister. 

But Harvey, charming though he is, was only a starting point. Charlotte's Mr. Rabbit has some marked differences. Unlike Harvey, he is very much visible, and both the reader and the little girl can see him and hear his conversation and advice. Charlotte points out, " He isn't very bright. He keeps repeating the same mistakes, suggesting exotic birds of different colors as a possible gift several times, for example, though the little girl keeps telling him, 'My mother likes birds in trees.' 

"Which is something that's true of me. All children's books, really, area rab 3.gif (164050 bytes) made up of double and triple exposures, pieces of this and that that you carry around. You think about them and one day they take shape and become a book. That is what happened here. But when you try to pick it apart and say 'What made me write this? Where did that come from?' it's very difficult to do. " (If you click to enlarge the photograph to the right, you can see a yellow bird --- in the tree, the way the little girl's mother likes birds to be. ) 

Reviews and honors

Mr. Rabbit was a 1963 Caldecott Honor Book... that's the silver seal you can make out on the cover at the top of the page.

Mr Rabb dutch.jpg (1013969 bytes)"An outstanding book (that) can be read by first-graders."--School Library Journal. (Left, a Dutch edition of Mr. Rabbit)

"A rhythmical text, warm with wise simplicity and full color pictures so beautiful you'll want to frame them, make this the season's most distinguished picture book." --- CommonwealMr Rabb finnish.jpg (872322 bytes)

"Any collaborative effort by the esteemed Charlotte Zolotow and the illustrious Maurice Sendak is bound to be a success. These beloved creators of countless children's favorites outdo themselves with this 1963 Caldecott Honor-winning classic about a little girl in need of assistance. Finding a birthday present for her mother is no easy task for our heroine. Luckily, she happens upon the avuncular Mr. Rabbit, whose heart is in the right place, even if he doesn't always have Mr Rabb french.jpg (958721 bytes) the best ideas. Ultimately, his suggestions do come in handy, and between the two of them they determine the ideal birthday tribute: the gift of color. Children will join the protagonists in contemplating how to make the abstract tangible, and all readers will be delighted to see yellow translate to bananas, as green is given in pears, and blue takes the shape of grapes.  (Above right, a Finnish Mr. Rabbit; above left a French Mr. Rabbit; below right, a German).Mr Rabb German.jpg (1003724 bytes)

" The soft, muted colors of Sendak's illustrations are reminiscent of a Monet landscape--utterly appealing and dreamy. And the reflective, sing-song dialogue between Mr. Rabbit and the girl is as deliciously lulling as a shady swing in a hammock. This quiet, peaceful book is a treasure for any shelf. (Ages 4 to 8)" --- Amazon.com.

Some other Mr. Rabbits below: a Spanish and a Swedish.

Mr Rabb spanish.jpg (1084130 bytes)

Mr Rabb, swedish.jpg (937465 bytes)

 

Charlotte's Home Page / email charlottesdaughter@charlottezolotow.com