LARSON: Hare's to a Happy Chinese New Year

Susan Larson

Susan Larson

Of all the animals in the Chinese zodiac, the rabbit is considered to be one of the most lovable. Maybe that’s why there are so many books about them.

Since 1879 people have loved the tales of Brer Rabbit. Beatrix Potter penned her first Peter Rabbit story as a picture letter to a little boy in 1893, and children today still delight in her drawings, even on quilts and collectables.

Starting in 1910, Uncle Wiggly ran for 30 years as a comic strip character, and lives on today in 79 books. In 1922 “The Velveteen Rabbit” became a reality and continues to be a popular book for gift giving.

One of the best books I ever read about a mother’s love is “Runaway Bunny,” written in 1942. Even though my youngest son is nearly 30, I still reread — and relive — that book every once in awhile, especially the part about the fish.

“Rabbit Hill” won the Newberry Award for best children’s literature in 1945, and for wild animal lovers is maybe more relevant today than it was when it was first written.

One of my all time favorites which seems to have disappeared from the shelves is Aileen Fisher’s “Listen, Rabbit,” a story written in rhyme, one my fourth-graders loved to use for dramatic readings.

Even though they did not play title roles, characters like the White Rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland” and Thumper from “Bambi” certainly rank among the best loved leporids throughout the ages.

And speaking of ages, in terms of reading levels, rabbits are not just for kids. For decades children in the upper grades have loved Deborah and James Howe’s Bunnicula series about a vampire rabbit that sucks juice out of veggies. On a more serious note, but a loving one just the same, “The Bravest Thing,” by Donna Jo Napoli deals with a young girl’s grief when her pet rabbit dies and Judith Kerr’s “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit,” which is required reading in Gwinnett middle schools, is based on the author’s experience as a child during the Holocaust. And for adults, who could forget the adventures of Fiver in “Watership Down” by Richard Adams.

Hares have worked their way into our hearts through film as well. In the 1940s Looney Toons introduced Bugs Bunny. In 1988 we marveled at the high-tech computer tricks of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Last month, the dramatic movie “Rabbit Hole,” starring Nicole Kidman was released with the underlying theme that “love will get you through.” And who could ever forget Jimmy Stewart and his imaginary rabbit friend named Harvey?

The Chinese Year of the Rabbit begins on Thursday, and I’m happy to say I have some lovable rabbit friends who include my brother Bob, sister-in-law Laura, and friends Karen Johnson and Bev and Walter Chow. In fact, I think it’s so wonderful to have rabbit friends that I think anyone who doesn’t have one should just act like Jimmy Stewart and make one up.

Susan Larson is a freelance writer who lives in Lilburn. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.