What the Fluffy Bunny Said to the Growly Bear
What the Fluffy Bunny Said to the Growly Bear
“Pssst! Hey Elephant!” said Moose.
“There’s a surprise birthday party for Zebra. I think you have to wear a meerkat! Bring a shake! Pass it on.”
What the Fluffy Bunny Said to the Growly Bear is a fun picture book featuring a cast of animal characters who are not well-versed in the art of active listening. With words by P. Crumble and illustrations by Chris Saunders, the resulting product is an enjoyable, although perhaps not completely novel, misadventure in communication.
The premise is simple and one that will not be completely unfamiliar to older picture book readers and adults. Zebra’s surprise birthday party is coming up, and Rabbit asks Growly Bear to “Wear a hat! Bring a Cake! Pass it on.” You may already see where this is going. Like a classic game of Telephone, Growly Bear passes on the wrong message, telling Moose to wear a cat and bring a steak. The chain of misheard rhyming requests continues until the group of animals have assembled an odd assortment of items to bring to the party.
The question of why each guest to a party would be asked to bring a cake is one that I can suspend my disbelief for (maybe Zebra really likes cake). What I have a bit more difficulty with is figuring out who this book is intended for. The way that it’s written and its cast of animals seem like something a pre-schooler or even early elementary student would enjoy. Whether or not Crumble had this intention, the premise of the book, along with its rhyme and repetition scheme, certainly seems aimed towards storytimes or read-alouds. The rhyming elements and illustrations, though, seem geared towards an older audience.
Each page or spread is composed of a greeting (“‘Hey Monkey!’ said Giraffe.”) followed by the instruction to bring rhyming objects. I worry that the structure of the text makes the rhymes lose some of their effectiveness. Since there is so much text between each pair of rhyming words and the rhymes occur across a page turn, by the time you get to the rhyme, it is less prominent than it could be. The fact that the rhyming words are also not all of the same number of syllables seems to add another layer of complexity. This is especially true when reading the text aloud. Not helping this cause are interjections by the animals, such as “you need to ummm ... ummm ... wear a cat!” or “I couldn’t quite hear but I believe that you should.” I understand the desire to include this type of text to give the animals more character, but I do wonder if it ultimately ended up detracting more than it added.
The premise of What the Fluffy Bunny Said to the Growly Bear lends itself very well to storytimes and other read-aloud situations, but the amount of text between the rhymes lessens their payoff to the point that I worry that younger children would have a hard time pointing them out. This might not be an issue in some books where the rhymes are incidental, but, in this story, where the rhymes form some of the basis of the plot, it seems important that they be easily identifiable. All the above considered, though, older children will likely have an easier time picking up on the rhymes and may get a kick out of the random items each animal plans to bring to the party. The one benefit to the rhymes being across a page turn is that they provide opportunities for dialogic reading, asking listeners to guess which animals or objects might come next.
The illustrations in What the Fluffy Bunny Said to the Growly Bear are expertly done. There is a sense of fun and whimsy about many of them, but there is also a tone that reads somewhat inconsistently. The images are rendered digitally with a painterly style. The animals presented have interesting proportions. There is something cartoony about many of them while some features, like their eyes, are more realistic. In the case of some animals like Monkey and Elephant, because of this realism, the eyes read almost dark or mean and may even be bordering on scary for the very young. Some of the animals are rendered more successfully than others. Standouts are the hippo and zebra that look as though they are ready to star in an animated film.
Many of the illustrations are of one or two animals surrounded by white space. In some of these illustrations, the animals have shadows, giving the impression that, rather than simply being on a white page, they are in a white void. Other pages have them in fields full of dots that look like the photographic bokeh technique and evoke flowers, or in the clouds with beautiful flower petals or tiny white bugs fluttering by. This contrasts with scenes like one at the end of the book where hippo seems to be placed in more natural, more realistic surroundings. It is hard to place what kind of world these animals are supposed to exist in, but it seems lovely, nonetheless. While these images might seem a bit at odds with the somewhat purposefully silly rhyming text, Saunders undoubtedly has a distinct and clear point of view that would match up perfectly with more whimsical texts.
While there are some inconsistencies in What the Fluffy Bunny Said to the Growly Bear, overall it is an enjoyable experience. Though not necessarily a first-purchase, it will likely be enjoyed by parents and their children. It could also be used effectively as a read-aloud for older age groups.
Alex Matheson is a children’s librarian in Vancouver, British Columbia.