Rabbit Hill

Rabbit_Hill

NEWBERY MEDAL WINNER – 1945

Rabbit Hill

written and illustrated by Robert Lawson

Age: (read to) 5+, (independent reading) 7+

Interests: animals, rabbits, farms, country life, community

Also illustrated by Robert Lawson: Ferdinand the Bull, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Adam of the Road

Other books written by Robert Lawson: The Tough Winter (sequel to Rabbit Hill), They Were Strong and Good, Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos, Mr. Revere and I, I Discover Columbus, The Great Wheel

The old farmhouse on Rabbit Hill has been deserted for years and the neglected garden has finally withered away to nothing. The wild animals of the area, long dependent upon that garden for food, are becoming desperate. With news of a new family moving in, the animals are abuzz with gossip. Who are the new humans? Do they have dogs? And most importantly, are they hunters or gardeners?

The story revolves around Little Georgie, a lively young rabbit who may be just a little too careless for his own good. Little Georgie’s father is a “Southern gentleman”, prone to telling long repetitive stories about his youth in the Bluegrass Country. He lectures the young ones on safety precautions and those who do not heed these lessons perish. Mother Rabbit often cries about the “little lost ones” in the graveyard on the hill.

Activity at the farm causes great curiosity among all the creatures of the area – squirrels, skunks, moles, deer, mice and all the birds of the forest. In fact they all come out to watch the moving van being unloaded, hoping for some clues as to the nature of the new folks. All signs appear to be good. Phewie the skunk is delighted to see they have a garbage can without a lid. They don’t appear to own traps, guns, or vicious dogs. There is a cat, but he seems to be old and slow. And a few days later a sign appears on the main road – “Please Drive Carefully on Account of Small Animals”, and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. ‘These folks are good folks’ is the consensus. Soon the garden is being cleaned up, and even enlarged. The animals couldn’t be more pleased.

However, when Little Georgie is hit by a car on the main road and assumed dead, all the animals mourn, and some begin to curse humans, all humans. Even reports that Little Georgie is alive and being nursed back to health by the new folks can’t quell the anger. Cranky Uncle Analdas says humans can’t be trusted. Georgie is being held captive, maybe even being tortured!

Tension builds until Midsummer’s Eve, when the garden harvest begins. The new folks unveil a statue of St. Francis with a sign that reads “There is enough for all”, and to the astonishment of the animals, they lay out a feast of produce for the animals to enjoy. Little Georgie’s leg is healed and he gleefully rejoins his family. In return for the regular food offerings, the grateful animals make a pact to stay out of the family’s garden plot. This heralds a new era of peace and contentment for everyone on Rabbit Hill.

This message that people and animals should learn to live together peacefully, and that there is enough for all, may be a tad Pollyanna-ish, but it had an additional resonance when the book was published. In 1945 World War II had just ended, the plight of European refugees was much in the press, and the foreign aid debate in the U.S. was in full swing.

I read this lovely book aloud to my daughter when she was seven, and she hung on every word (as did her Grandmother). This is an excellent bridging story for those who are a little too big for Peter Rabbit but not quite ready for Watership Down. While danger and threat exist in this world, nothing bad happens to our characters. The gentle nature of this story makes it appropriate for younger listeners, or even school-age children who aren’t so fond of action and violence. The writing style is old-fashioned and Father Rabbit’s verbosity introduces new vocabulary with great humour. This is a sweet, gentle, amusing animal tale for a wide range of ages. And of course Lawson’s own illustrations (see examples below) provide immense charm.

 

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.