“Bunny and Me”, a romp through uncanny valley

I did not, for the record, acquire this book on purpose. It snuck into our house via a bag of books my mother had picked up at the library booksale, and now we’re stuck with it.

One of my baby’s favorite books is Bunny and Me, by Adele Aron Greenspun and Joanie Schwarz. Cartwheel Books (imprint of Scholastic). First pub. 2000. Apparently we have the 2005 Barnes and Noble exclusive edition, whatever that might mean. When this book first came into our lives, I was surprised that an editor had passed “this tripe” (as I arrogantly called it then).

Can’t find the publisher’s direct link, don’t like linking to Amazon, and am too lazy to learn to link images myself.  So here’s what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about it: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-439-14700-2

From my adult POV, Bunny and Me is a horrifying book. Who knows, maybe my kiddo thinks it’s horrifying too and that’s why it’s such a favorite. Today Bunny and Me, tomorrow Rosemary’s Baby?

In any case, the Offspring loves it, so I’ve had to walk back my original impression that it is simply a bad book. The target demographic clearly gives 5 stars. That editor at Cartwheel clearly knew their job very well indeed, thankyouverymuch, and this grumpy mom was just out of the loop on what really makes a board book these days.

When I look at Bunny and Me, I see twee quilt borders and faux-old-timey tinted photographs and really, really bad photoshopping.  I know some people do find that style charming. (As you may have gathered, I am not one of them.  Though I can really like quilts and old-timey!  Just not combined with pastel colors in this particular way.) In any case, I had assumed that particular brand of nostalgia was something that adults would appreciate more than babies, and thought that aspect would go over the target audience’s head.  May have been wrong about that, too.

The plot basically goes like this: There’s a lot of set-up showing that the white Baby and the fluffy grey Bunny are friends who do various random stuff like popping bubbles together. (Despite the “Me” in the title, Baby is always referred to as Baby. Possibly the creepy baby refers to itself in third person?) Then, late in the book, Bunny hops away from Baby, inciting the real meat of the story. There is a photo of a Very, Very Sad baby, with the text “Come back, Bunny!” Baby looks for Bunny in various places in the eerie, dreamlike landscape that they inhabit. Eventually Bunny is found! Cue photo of Very, Very Happy baby. Final image is of the “funny buddies” together, as Baby’s photoshopped hand reaches into Bunny’s skull and seizes control of the poor victim – I mean, pets Bunny affectionately! Bunny’s fur is probably just really – puffy?

The Offspring, however, sees something entirely different. After observing on many, many reads, I think the appeal is something like this:

* The book has lots of B sounds. The Offspring is a big fan of words starting with B.  There appears to be something amusing – sometimes even hilarious about it. And on a scale of B to other letters, Bunny and Me is a masterpiece.  There are 43 words beginning with B and 45 beginning with ordinary letters. (That 45 includes all the words like “the” and “a”.) In addition to our protagonists’ names, they also do lots of B-related activities and Baby looks in B-related hiding places, etc. Hardly a page goes by without the favorite letter.

* Extreme baby faces. Creepy Baby emotes a lot.

* The part of the plot where Bunny is missing seems to be something my kiddo can just about follow. At any rate, the Offspring looks concerned when Baby is Sad, increasingly anticipatory during the search, and joyful when we turn the page and Baby is Happy.

* Mommy being melodramatic. Around here, we read “Come back, Bunny!” with feeling. The kind of feeling where Mama can hear it from the other side of the house. The Offspring eats it up, and asks me to read the book a few dozen more times. Because apparently, when I really, really hate a book, I start trying to make it more fun for me and add flourishes like this. Note to self: Stop doing this. (Though not on this book, obviously, because that would disappoint the Offspring.)

Before the Offspring was born, I made various resolutions about how I would try to be respectful of my child’s independant tastes and not be the Authority On High about what was and wasn’t a Good Book. (I used to play Authority on High about my younger siblings’ tastes, with all the vast arrogance of my teenage years; and have since realized that I am very fortunate that none of them murdered me then and that most still speak to me today.)

When I made these resolutions, I was imagining chapter books and pop music and stuff. Maybe even picture books. I was definitely not expecting to have to acknowledge the merits of a board book before my baby could even talk and tell me what these merits are. And yet, here we are today. It’s a humbling experience. I suppose it’s good that I’m getting to practice Not Being Judgmental while the child is still too young to remember that I called a favorite book “horrifying”?

I can’t bring myself to exactly recommend this book.  But if you have a baby who loves the letter B and looking at baby faces, who knows, Bunny and Me could be that this is the really “in” thing to be reading. Just remember to read it with feeling.

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