Catharsis by Rabbit

by Sonia Mitchell

Rabbityness is a touching picture book about loss and creativity.
Rabbityness is a children’s picture book, written and illustrated by Jo Empson. It’s a touching story about a rabbit who does unrabbity things like painting and making music. His creativity brings him a lot of happiness and brightens up the lives of all the other rabbits in the wood.

Then one day he disappears.

The remaining rabbits find the wood a sad, grey place without him, until they venture down his rabbit-hole. There they find that he has left them things to paint and make music with. They learn to use them, and bring colour back to their wood. This makes them remember Rabbit with happiness.

I’ve come across a few books for young children that tackle death, but this is the only one I can think of that is completely secular. The other rabbits don’t know where Rabbit has gone, and there is no suggestion that he is watching them as they bring the colour back into their lives. It isn’t a question that occupies the text at all; the focus is on the other rabbits, and how they cope with the sudden loss.

Empson’s art is full of energy, and the colours used to represent Rabbit’s creativity dominate the pages in which he features. This creates a powerful visual representation of the way the other rabbits are remembering him. Beginning with exploratory splashes of colour, they build up to a multicoloured picture of the woods full of happiness again.

It’s a simple story that somehow manages to capture so much about loss that it makes me cry each time I read it. Empson wrote the story a few days after the death of her elder brother, and the emotion echoes all the way through it. The concepts of celebrating a life and remembering a loved one are expressed gently; there are no ‘shoulds’ in this book, simply a portrait of healing and remembering.

It’s also a book that, as the cover blurb says, ‘celebrates individuality [and] encourages the creativity in everyone’. Rabbit spreads so much happiness doing unrabbity things that he brightens the whole forest, and leaves a legacy of colour and joy.

Rabbityness is a charming, moving book that explores loss and memory through beautiful art. I find reading it to be a cathartic and ultimately uplifting experience, and I look forwards to seeing more of Jo Empson's work.

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Comments (go to latest)
Alice at 22:57 on 2015-01-23
Oh goodness, this book sounds wonderful, I shall have to keep an eye out for it.

(I have to say, I had a moment of "oh, well, of course it's a lovely book, it's published by Child's Play!" when I saw the logo on the cover image in this review.

As they say on their website, CP publish books "that fully reflect our diverse society in terms or [sic] heritage, disability, gender and family" -- I remember being really pleased when I first saw the couple of CP books my toddler niecephews have, because the books not only show babies of different skin colours/ethnic backgrounds, but also babies with glasses, hearing aids, and seizure helmets/protective headgear. Which makes this bleeding heart liberal softie very happy. *g*)
Sonia Mitchell at 15:07 on 2015-01-24
Child's Play are great publishers. I like that they're not afraid to publish charmingly odd work that's at a simple reading level but challenging in interpretation.

This page from Star Gazers, Skyscrapers and Extraordinary Sausages is just fabulous.
Robinson L at 22:36 on 2015-05-01
Sounds like an interesting book, I should probably check it out some time. Coincidentally, I read this review the day after Terry Pratchett died - that seems oddly appropriate.
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