Picture book brilliance isn’t easy to achieve, as many children’s writers know. Telling a story in 500 words–with page turns that work within a 32-page format–challenges the most talented of writers.
Let’s not forget that a picture book should appeal to both parent and child. Silliness keeps the kids begging “again!” But if a parent thinks the language is too repetitive or annoying, you’ll lose the gatekeeper. (You know, the one with the wallet.)
Sappy stories can attract Mom and Dad, but kids might declare them snoozers. I recall tearing up at a lovely, sentimental picture book while my daughter rolled her eyes. “Mom, what is wrong with you?”
So what makes a great picture book that both parent and child can call a favorite?
A balance between humor and heart, imagination and reality.
That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton has it all.
Emily and her stuffed pal Stanley explore the world together–they scuba-dive, swing through the rain forest, and launch into outer space. But they are constantly interrupted by a rat-a-tat-tat on their garden door. Her Royal Highness Queen Gloriana’s guardsmen keep insisting that Emily give her Bunny-Wunny to the matriarch. It is the Queen’s decree!
Now, the Queen tries to be fair about it. She offers all these new-fangled toys in exchange, upping the ante each time Emily refuses. But the Queen’s toys are “stiff and new and gold and horrible…with staring eyes and no smile at all.” Once it’s clear that Emily will not trade Stanley, the Queen resorts to extreme measures.
Emily awakens the next morning without Stanley! She knows who’s behind his disappearance and marches straight to the palace. But the Queen is not happily playing with her Bunny-Wunny. She’s crying over him.
That silly, naughty Queen had Stanley re-stuffed and washed, turning him an odd pink color. They were both miserable.
As usual, I won’t tell you how it ends. You’ll just have to pick it up for yourself. And cuddle with it. And go on adventures together. Wear out the pages a bit.
That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown celebrates the special bond between child and toy. Almost everyone had a lovey, that one thing we couldn’t live without, dragged by a leg to grocery stores and Grandma’s. This story reminds adults that there’s still a kid inside us, longing to curl up with our own flip-floppy stuffed rabbit.
Luckily we can snuggle with a cute kid instead, reading Emily Brown over and over and over again.
That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown
Written by Cressida Cowell
Illustrated by Neal Layton
Hyperion Books for Children
Want it? Sure you do!