Rabbit & Squirrel: A Tale of War & Peas
by Kara LaReau
illustrated by Scott Magoon
Harcourt, Inc., 2008
review copy compliments of the author and illustrator
If your children are behaving perfectly at this time of the year you don't need this book. (And I don't want to talk to you.)
If your politicians are behaving perfectly in your part of the world you don't need this book. (And again, I don't want to talk to you.)
If, by chance, your children (or politicians) are jumping to conclusions, making assumptions, or seeking revenge before they ask for information, they you (and they) need this book.
Rabbit and Squirrel live on opposite sides of the garden and yet they never speak to each other or share vegetables. One morning when Rabbit awakes to find her finest lettuce and carrots picked, she jumps to a conclusion, storms over to Squirrel's house, thumps on his door and accuses him of this crime. The next morning when Squirrel wakes up, he finds that his best tomatoes and peas are gone, he jumps to a conclusion as well, he accuses Rabbit AND he throws a rotten tomato at Rabbit's house. Their war escalates until the Gardner (the one, we assume, who was harvesting lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and peas in the first place -- we can see a large human hand through the window of Rabbit's and Squirrel's houses in the illustrations) stomps into the garden in her big green boots and chases the two pests out of garden and into the deep dark woods where they continue bickering and blaming. The book ends with the hope that they will grow tired of fighting and "learn to grow something new" -- a garden they make together.
I told my students before I read this book to them that the characters remind me of "some people I know." They nodded knowingly (and sometimes guiltily) when the first assumptions and accusations were made.
After I read the book, we looked for moments in the book when, if they could intervene and change the characters' behaviors, the outcome of the story could be changed. They decided that it wasn't so bad that Rabbit had made the first assumption, but if she hadn't "thumped" on the door or shouted at Squirrel -- if she had knocked and asked if he knew what had happened -- the story might have turned out differently.
There's great power in a cautionary tale such as this one. It gives our children a way to distance themselves from their disagreements and think about the problem in terms of Rabbits and Squirrels.
Hopefully the big people who read this book -- the "gardeners" who ultimately "own" the "garden" -- will look for their message as well. Is it really necessary to chase the problems away with a pitchfork, or is there some way we can all share the garden with less war and enough peas for everyone?
Another review with great pics is over at 7-Imp.