CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 13. . . .November 27, 2009.
The Rabbits’ Race: A Grandparents’ Day Story.
Deborah L. Delaronde. Illustrated by Virginia McCoy.
Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 2009.
50 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
Kindergarten-grade 3 / Ages 5-8.
Review by Gregory Bryan.
“The sound of this stick breaking will be your signal to start hopping,” he said. “The first one to reach the river will be declared the winner.”
When the stick cracked with a pop, all three rabbits began hopping and running.
The forest was thick with shrubs, branches, and grass. The bush rabbits hopped and skimmed easily through the maze of branches.
The jackrabbit, being a lot bigger and having longer feet, struggled through the thick underbrush and fell behind.
Theytus Books’ new title, The Rabbits’ Race, tells a story about respectfully appreciating elders, and working together and sharing. On Grandparents Day at school, Joey’s grandfather shares the story of a race between two bush rabbits and a large jackrabbit. The race contestants fall into an old abandoned beaver lodge and cannot get out of the hole.
Deborah L. Delaronde’s text is simple and generally concise. She allows the pictures to tell much of the story. Given my own stylistic preferences, I would have preferred it if Delaronde had simply conveyed the story of the rabbits’ race, without the “story-within-a-story” structure that she employs. The information about Joey and his grandfather is, for me, unnecessary. A firmer editorial hand might have seen the removal of Joey and his grandfather from the book, and I believe the story would have been better for their exclusion.
The Rabbits’ Race contains a good story, but it is the illustrations which are the most impressive feature of this book. Virginia McCoy’s artwork is gorgeous. With their expressive facial features, the rabbits are endearing characters that young readers will enjoy. McCoy’s soft colour palette and rounded shapes suggest the gentle nature of rabbits. While yellow is a dominant colour in many of the paintings, the yellows are muted. Together with the muted yellows, the greens, browns, greys, and blues/purples work well as a subtle, cool touch inside the energy created by the much more vibrant shapes and lines. The swirling, circular shapes and lines add dynamic movement to the illustrations. I was impressed by the manner in which McCoy created a visually interesting balance in the illustrations. The double page spreads usually feature one or two large character depictions on one page, weighed against smaller characters on the other side. The page containing the smaller character depictions often includes a darker object and/or some interesting background detail, which helps to create the balance. Together with the flowing lines, the different sizes of the rabbit depictions draw the reader’s eye across the page, adding movement to the book. This movement seems to me to be reflective of the rabbits’ speedy, energetic race.
I believe that the judges for next year’s Governor General’s Literary Awards should look closely at The Rabbits’ Race when they meet to determine the short-list for the award for children’s book illustration. Virginia McCoy’s artwork is unique and deserving of the highest praise.
Gregory Bryan teaches literacy and children’s literature classes at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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